Using Conspecific Playbacks to Investigate Contact Calling in Southeast Alaskan Humpback Whales

Academic Article


  • AbstractHumpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) produce calls across age and sex class and throughout their migratory range. Despite growing interest in calling behavior, the function of most calls is unknown. Among identified call types, the ‘whup’ is ubiquitous, and innate, and may serve as a contact call. We conducted an acoustic playback experiment combined with passive acoustic monitoring and visual observations to test the function of the whup on a Southeast Alaskan foraging ground. Using a before-during-after design, we broadcasted either a control sound or a unique whup call sequence. We investigated the change in whup rates (whups/whale/10 minutes) in response to treatment (whup or control) and period (before, during, or after). In 100% of the conspecific trials, whup rates increased during broadcasts, and whup rates were significantly higher than in before or after periods. There was no significant difference in whup rates between before and after periods during conspecific trials. In control trials, there were no significant differences in whup rates between before, during, or after periods. Neither whups nor control playbacks elicited an approach response. Humpback whale vocal responses to whup playbacks suggest that whups function as a contact call, but not necessarily as an aggregation signal.
  • Authors

  • Fournet, Michelle
  • Matthews, Leanna P
  • Bartlett, Annie
  • Mastick, Natalie
  • Sharpe, Fred
  • Doyle, Laurance
  • McCowan, Brenda
  • Crutchfield, James P
  • Mellinger, David K
  • Status

    Publication Date

  • August 27, 2021
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)