Whale Songs in the City
Whales have been recorded singing near New York harbor, but noise pollution and shipping traffic put them at risk
The songs of these three whale species were recorded by Cornell University researchers in the vicinity of New York Harbor.
- Fin whale recorded near New York City (MP3, opens in new window)
- Typical fin whale call (MP3, opens in new window)
A high-quality recording, not collected near New York, of a fin whale song that has been sped up 30 times. Analysts sometimes speed up recordings to hear the song notes and rhythm.
Average Size: Up to 78 feet (24 meters), 50-70 tons (45,000-65,000 kilograms)
Color: Brownish gray, with a white underside. It has a creamy white patch on the lower right jaw, while the left side is black or gray.
Description: The second-largest living animal, the fin whale is long and slender with a flat, V-shaped head. Distinguishing characteristics include a pointed snout, paired blowholes and a series of 50-100 pleats or grooves on its underside.
Habitat: Found in all major oceans, with the highest populations in temperate and cool waters. They migrate to subtropical waters for mating and calving in the winter and Arctic and Antarctic waters for summer feeding.
Threats: Collisions with large and fast-moving ships, noise pollution
Population: Estimated 55,000-60,000, with the majority in the Northern Hemisphere
IUCN Conservation Status: Endangered
- Right whale recorded near New York City (MP3, opens in new window)
- Typical right whale calls (MP3, opens in new window)
This is a high-quality example of the most commonly recorded right whale call, which scientists refer to as an upsweep contact call. It's the same type that was recorded in New York waters.
Average Size: 33-55 feet (11-17 meters), 70 tons (63,500 kilograms)
Color: Very dark gray or black, often with a white patch on underside
Description: The right whale is large and bulky, with 40 percent of its weight consisting of blubber. It is distinguished by an arching mouth that begins above the eye, the lack of a dorsal fin, and white, hardened patches of skin on the head called callosities.
Habitat: Found worldwide, but North Atlantic Right whales live in the North Atlantic Ocean. They migrate to warmer waters for mating and calving, and to colder waters for feeding.
Threats: Collisions with ships, entanglements with fishing gear, noise pollution. They were given their name because whalers considered them the "right" whales to hunt. They have a lot of blubber, and they were easy to catch because they swim slowly and float after dying. Their slowness, along with yearlong gestation periods beginning when females are 10 years old, puts them at heightened risk today.
Population: Estimated 300-400 in the North Atlantic, 3,000-4,000 for all Right whales
IUCN Conservation Status: Endangered
- Humpback whale recorded near New York City (MP3, opens in new window)
- Typical humpback whale calls (MP3, opens in new window)
Humpbacks are sometimes called "the singing whales" because they're known to produce long, elaborate calls like this high-quality example, which was not recorded near New York.
Average Size: 40-50 feet (12-15 meters), 25-40 tons (22,000-36,000 kilograms)
Color: Black, with spotted black and white underside
Description: The humpback has a round, stocky body. It is distinguished by long pectoral fins and bumpy knobs on the head and jaw, each with a single hair. It also has a very long tail fin which, along with the pectoral fins, has unique individual patterns. There are 20-50 grooves on its underside as well.
Habitat: Found in all major oceans. Spend the winters in tropical water for mating and calving, and the summers in temperate and polar waters for feeding.
Threats: Entanglement in fishing gear, collisions with ships, noise pollution
Population: Estimated 30,000-40,000
IUCN Conservation Status: Least concern (in other words, their population is recovering due to conservation efforts)
last revised 10/7/2008
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