Acoustic monitoring on a humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) feeding ground shows continual singing into late spring

Abstract

Singing by males is a major feature of the mating system of humpback whales, Megaptera novaeangliae (Borowski). Although a few songs have been opportunistically recorded on the whales' high–latitude feeding grounds, singing in these regions was thought to be only sporadic. We report results from the first continuous acoustic monitoring of a humpback whale feeding ground (off Cape Cod, MA, USA) in spring. Using autonomous sea–floor recording systems, we found singing on a daily basis over the entire 25 day monitoring period, from 14 May to 7 June 2000. For much of the period, song was recorded 24 h per day. These results, combined with evidence for aseasonal conceptions in whaling catch data, suggest that the humpback whale breeding season should no longer be considered as confined to lower–latitude regions in winter. Rather, we suggest breeding extends geographically and temporally onto feeding grounds into at least spring and early summer. Singing at these times represents either low–cost opportunistic advertising by (perhaps relatively few) males to court females that failed to conceive during the winter, and/or possibly an intrasexual display.