Whales use 'sound map' to navigate
20 March 2005, The Scotsman
Scientists have revealed new findings that indicate that whales navigate hundreds of miles using a mental map of the sea floor based on sound. Whales also use their songs to communicate across thousands of miles of ocean. The discoveries have emerged from a study of whale song that is redefining what experts know about the giants of the deep. The researchers used a network of ex-cold war US Navy underwater microphones to listen to whales singing. Once the Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS) followed Soviet submarines in the North Atlantic . Now it is being employed to track blue, fin, humpback and minke whales.
The acoustic maps obtained from the recordings have given scientists a new insight into the world of the whale. After listening to the songs for nine years, Dr. Christopher Clark, from Cornell University , realized he had been thinking about whales in the wrong time scale. He says there is a time-delay in the water, and the response times for their communication are not the same as ours. He came to the realization that their behavior is defined not on a human researcher scale, but by a whale’s sense of scale—ocean basin—sized. The recordings have yielded thousands of acoustical tracks of different species of singing whales, allowing scientists to fully evaluate where they are and how long they sing. There is strong evidence that whales are communicating with each other over thousands of miles of ocean. Singing is part of their social system and community.