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Researchers track singing humpback whales on a Northwest Atlantic feeding ground

Male humpback whales sing complex songs in tropical waters during the winter breeding season, but they also sing at higher latitudes at other times of the year. NOAA researchers have provided the first detailed description linking humpback whale movements to acoustic behavior on a feeding ground in the Northwest Atlantic.

Findings from the study, published April 10 in the journal PLOS ONE, demonstrate the potential applications of passive acoustic tracking and monitoring for marine mammal conservation and management.

Co-author Sofie Van Parijs, who heads the passive acoustics group at the Woods Hole Laboratory of NOAA's Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC), says this study is not so much about biology, but about acoustic methods.

"We have monitored and acoustically recorded whale sounds for years, and are now able to 'mine' these data using new computer software applications and methods, " said Van Parijs. "Passive acoustic tracking has enabled us to localize humpback whale song to study the movements of individual whales, and to relate the singing to specific behaviors. This has never before been accomplished for singing humpbacks on a northwest Atlantic feeding ground."

"Passive acoustic tracking of humpback whales and other cetacean species provides an opportunity to collect data on movement patterns that are difficult―or impossible―to obtain using other techniques," said lead author Joy Stanistreet, who worked with Van Parjis and co-author Denise Risch at the NEFSC's Woods Hole Laboratory at the time of the study. Stanistreet is currently a graduate student at the Duke University Marine Laboratory in Beaufort, N.C.

Since 2007, NEFSC researchers have used year-round passive acoustic monitoring to study ocean noise in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, a feeding ground for humpback whales and other marine mammal species in the southern Gulf of Maine. Humpback whales typical

Contact: Shelley Dawicki
NOAA Fisheries Northeast Fisheries Science Center

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