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Eavesdropping on cetacean chatter.

In addition to listening for submarines, the U.S. Navy has begun sounding out whales in the North Atlantic, allowing scientists to detect the wide array of noises these marine mammals make. In just three months, the Navy's network of listening devices picked up whale sounds 35,000 times, says Christopher W. Clark, a bioacoustics expert at Cornell University.

Different whales speak different "languages," and there even appear to be regional dialects, Clark reported last month in Davis, Calif., at the annual meeting of the Animal Behavior Society. Blue-whale calls, sped up tenfold, resemble bird chirps, while the revved-up calls of minke whales resemble clicks heard in a subway train, he says.

Differences in the timing of chirps and clicks or in the way the whales change frequencies can account for regional differences in whale talk, notes Adam S. Frankel, a marine mammalogist at Cornell. Blue whales may bounce their loud chirps of the seafloor to get an audio read of the topography, he speculates.

The Navy listening system also enables researchers to locate the source of each sound. In one case, they followed a blue whale for 43 days as it moved from Cape Cod to Bermuda and then headed to Florida before returning to Bermuda, says Frankel.

The researchers hope to use the system to learn about the whales' seasonal movements as well as their vocalizations. "This technology is going to revolutionize the way people look at and listen to whales," says Frankel, who thinks researchers will also estimate population sizes on the basis of this chatter.
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Title Annotation:Navy studies whale vocalizations
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Aug 28, 1993
Words:259
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