First ‘song’ recorded from rare, lovelorn, right whale off Alaska

An August 6, 2017 file photo provided by NOAA Fisheries shows a North Pacific right whale swims in the Bering Sea west of Bristol Bay. (NOAA Fisheries via AP)
Updated 20 June 2019

First ‘song’ recorded from rare, lovelorn, right whale off Alaska

  • Scientists’ best guess is that this serenade of the seas is a mating call from a lonely aquatic mammal
  • There are only about 30 whales in this population and males outnumber females

ANCHORAGE, Alaska: For the first time, scientists have recorded singing by one of the rarest whales on Earth, and it just might be looking for a date.
The crooning comes from a possibly lovelorn North Pacific right whale and its song was documented by researchers in the Bering Sea off Alaska’s coast, and announced on Wednesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The song may not be a greatest hit, but is classified by marine biologists as an underwater call using a distinct pattern of sounds.
And it is the scientists’ best guess that this serenade of the seas is a mating call from a lonely aquatic mammal.
Scientists surveying endangered marine mammal populations first heard the tune in 2010 but could not be sure what kind of whale was singing, said Jessica Crance, of NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center.
At the time, the researchers were traveling in thick fog and could not see the animal, she said.
But scientists figured out it was indeed a right whale after analysis of a lot of collected acoustical data, followed by a specific sighting during a 2017 marine-mammal research cruise, Crance said.
That year, “We saw the whale that was singing,” she said.
The right whale’s caroling is described in a study published in the current issue of the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, and is the first confirmed song from any right whale population.
This history-making discovery sheds light on behavior of one of the planet’s most elusive marine animals, NOAA said.
While this is the first known tune, right whales are not mute. They are known to be chatty by making “gunshot” sounds.
What made this newly-recorded noise a song was its repeated pattern, “timing in between gunshots and the number of gunshots,” she said.
The singing whale spotted in 2017 was a male, and is in the tiny population where dates are hard to find.
There are only about 30 whales in this population and males outnumber females by a 2-to-1 or 3-to-1 ratio, Crance said.
Right whales were hunted nearly to extinction by commercial whalers. The species was named “right whales” in whaler lingo of old, because they were the right whales to hunt. They are slow, easy targets and hold so much body fat that they float when killed, according to NOAA.
“It’s really exciting whenever we see one. Every single sighting is very, very important,” she said.


TWITTER POLL: Almost 3 of 4 readers think there is more to the massive blast in Beirut

Updated 07 August 2020

TWITTER POLL: Almost 3 of 4 readers think there is more to the massive blast in Beirut

  • Impact of the blast was also reportedly felt 200 kilometers away in Cyprus
  • Mushroom clouds and spherical blast waves are conflated as nuclear in nature

DUBAI: Almost three of four readers think there is more to the massive explosions that hit a Beirut port on Tuesday, according to an Arab News straw poll on Twitter.

The blast, caused by a stockpile ammonium nitrate stored in a warehouse, generated a shock wave so devastating that it levelled buildings near the port and caused extensive damage over much of the rest of the capital, killing more than 100 people and injuring thousands.

The impact of the blast was also reportedly felt 200 kilometers away in Cyprus.

Specifically, 73 percent of more than 1,000 readers who responded to the poll do not believe the explosion was an accident compared to about 27 percent who thought it was back luck that the ammonium nitrate – unsafely stored for six years – has been the cause of the deadly Beirut blast.

The enormous explosion consequently created a mushroom cloud over Beirut, stoking fears and rumors on social media and, among conspiracy theorists, that a nuclear bomb has been detonated in the Lebanese capital due to the sheer magnitude of the blast.

About 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate was involved during Tuesday’s explosion. Ammonium nitrate is a crystal-like white solid commonly used as a source of nitrogen for agricultural fertilizer, and is relatively safe when stored properly. It, however, becomes deadly as an explosive when mixed with other chemicals and fuel oils.

Some experts pointed out that people who are not accustomed to seeing large explosions may confuse mushroom clouds and spherical blast waves as nuclear in nature.

Others believed the Beirut explosion lacked two hallmarks of a nuclear detonation: a ‘blinding white flash’ and a thermal pulse, or surge of heat, which would otherwise had started fires all over the area and severely burned people’s skin.