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.


Renaissance master Raphael did a nose-job in self-portrait, face reconstruction suggests

Updated 11 August 2020

Renaissance master Raphael did a nose-job in self-portrait, face reconstruction suggests

  • Professor Mattia Falconi: ‘He certainly made his nose look more refined’
  • Raphael died in Rome in 1520 aged 37, and was buried in Rome’s Pantheon

ROME: Raphael probably didn’t like his nose, and replaced it with an idealized version in his famous self-portrait.
That is the conclusion of Rome University scientists who produced a 3D computer reconstruction of the Renaissance master’s face from a plaster cast of his presumed skull made in 1833.
In that year, the remains believed to be those of the man hailed by his contemporaries as “the divine one” because he sought perfection through his work were last exhumed.
“He certainly made his nose look more refined,” said Professor Mattia Falconi, a molecular biologist at the university’s Tor Vergata campus. “His nose was, let’s say, slightly more prominent.”
Raphael died in Rome in 1520 aged 37, probably from pneumonia, and was buried in Rome’s Pantheon.
The self-portrait, which normally hangs in Florence’s Uffizi gallery but is currently in Rome for an exhibition marking the 500th anniversary of his death, was done about 15 years earlier, when he was clean-shaven.
It features the more aquiline nose that Raphael also included in other works in which he painted himself.
The reconstruction is of the way he may have looked closer to his death, when he wore a beard.
Falconi, along with forensic anthropologists and other experts, reconstructed the face with tissue layering techniques used by crime investigators.
The result was a face similar to that of the master on an engraving by Marcantonio Raimondi, one of his students.
“When we finished, I said to myself ‘I’ve seen that face before,’” Falconi, 57, said in a telephone interview.
Another similarity is with the subject of “Portrait of a Man,” painted between 1512 and 1515 by Sebastiano del Piombo, a Raphael contemporary and rival.
For centuries there has been speculation that the bones exhumed in 1833 and reburied in a re-styled crypt may not have been Raphael’s because some of his students were later buried near him.
But Falconi believes the research points to an around 85 percent chance that the skull is Raphael’s because of similarities with most of the artist’s face as depicted by him and his contemporaries.
Not everyone was pleased with Falconi’s research. An art critic for the Rome newspaper La Repubblica said it had produced a cheap “videogame version” of Raphael.
Falconi said he hoped the tomb can be opened again someday for direct tests on the skull. This could resolve several mysteries, including confirming what caused his death.