"Is this where North Pacific humpback whales practice their songs?"
"The steady hiss from the speakers is broken by a long, clear call. Hermann Meuter spins his chair around to a tall bank of acoustic equipment, slips on a pair of headphones, and taps a button to start recording. Janie Wray turns from her computer to look toward the source of the sound—not up at the speakers mounted on the wall but out the window to the white-capped sea.
The first notes have the mellow resonance of a saxophone in a rainy alleyway: a smooth slide up an octave, and then a descending minor arpeggio laid over the echo. The same call again, this time with an extra riff on the descent. A second voice adds a deep grumbling that sets the floor of the lab vibrating. For the next 45 minutes, the two whales sing together.
Humpback whale songs are among the most complex, and least understood, acoustic displays in the animal kingdom. All cetaceans are vocal to some degree, and humpbacks have a wide range of feeding and social calls. The seasonal singing of male humpbacks, however, is of an entirely different order: complex, highly structured, and precisely repeated arrangements of calls, from deep grumbles to fluting trills."