Study: humpback whales don't sing as much as they used to

humpback whale
Photo credit Getty Images

It turns out the songs that humpback whales have been singing for years may have been every bit as melancholy as they sounded.

Australian researchers have found that as the population of humpback whales has grown, the ocean mammals have been singing far less often than they used to.

"It was getting more difficult to actually find singers," marine biologist Rebecca Dunlop told the Associated Press. "When there were fewer of them, there was a lot of singing. Now that there are lots of them, no need to be singing so much."

That's because whales sing to attract mates, Dunlop explained.

However, now that Australia's humpback population has grown from 200 in the 1960s to more than 27,000 today, there's no need for whales to search for mates miles away.

According to the study, published in the journal Nature Communications Biology, whales are now more likely to engage in non-singing physical competition over singing when it comes to mating tactics.

"As animal populations recover, they change their behavior — they have different constraints," marine biologist Boris Worm, who was not involved in the study, told the AP.

The study looked at different datasets recorded over the past several decades. One comparison analyzed data from 1997, when the whale population was approximately 3,700, and 2015, when the population boomed to 27,000.

"The number of observed non-singing males per day always outweighed the number of singing males per day," the study noted.

In 1997, the number of non-singing males ranged from 1 to 17 per day and the number of singing whales ranged from 0 to 3 per day. By 2015, the number non-singing males ranged from 12 to 90 per day and the number of singers ranged from 0 to 6.

"As the population increased, the number of males increased, and this led to increasing male-male physical competition as indicated by the increasing presence of multi-male competitive groups," according to the study.

Researchers said their analysis shows whether humpback males sing or not is indicative of changes in the relative population of the species.

"In other words, males are likely maximizing their reproductive potential by singing when the risk of attracting male competition is low. Switching to non-singing behavior may reduce the risk of attracting competition, given song is a loud acoustic signal," the study says.

And it's a tactic that clearly has worked.

"Despite being whaled to almost extinction, this species has made an unprecedented recovery," the study noted. "The fact that there is likely to be a density-dependent [change] in humpback male mating tactics in this population may have lowered their extinction risk and contributed towards their recovery."

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Getty Images