Featured Image Credit: Wikimedia
By Emily Persico
Kayaking through the sea, one man came across a pod of Beluga Whale and attempted to attract them using Dory-inspired song — And it actually worked! The Belugas curiously approached him, and together they sang and swam like old friends.
Beluga whales are the canaries of the sea, producing noises that have been described as chirps, bleats, clicks, squeaks, moans, groans, and whistles. They manage to make all these noises despite the fact that they lack vocal cords. Instead, the whales talk through their blowhole’s nasal sacs – Essentially, they talk through their nose.
As you can imagine, this takes a lot of practice, and young belugas spend the first year or two of their lives developing their sound. Eventually, a fully developed whale will be able to use sound for both communication and – just like a bat – echolocation, aiming their vocalizations in the proper direction by wiggling their abnormally large noggin.
“Sound to them is like eyes to us,” explains Valeria Vergara of the Vancouver Aquarium. A beluga lives in a nearly pitch-black environment for half of the year, so these nose-originating noises are the only means they have to locate each other and get a sense of the world around them.
Because sound is so important to beluga whales, the noisy world we live in has left their populations vulnerable. Belugas are listed as “Near Threatened,” and the main threat being sounds created by human activity in the sea.
“The reason this [new human-caused] noise is so much of a problem today is that the animal has not had time to adapt to it,” says Robert Michaud, a member of the Group for Research and Education on Marine Marines.
And, as our climate warms, more channels are opening to human activity in their Arctic habitat. “There’s going to be more shipping, more resource exploration and more human usage of the Arctic,” says Aran Mooney of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
Researchers are hard at work to determine just what kinds of sounds are impacting the canaries of the sea – and quick, before we drown them out completely.
Learn more here.