Humpback whales are known for their singing abilities that researchers believe to be very useful when they communicate with each other. Findings of a new study, however, reveal there is another purpose for these marine animal's magical songs, these help them hunt for their food particularly at night when there is very little light to help them find their prey.
Susan Parks, from the Syracuse University, and colleagues have been conducting studies on the unique feeding behaviors of humpback whales. These studies often take into account the crucial role of auditory cues that these large marine mammals emit when they search for their prey in the dark and deep ocean.
For their new study published in the Scientific Reports on Dec. 16, Parks' team tagged whales with recording devices that would enable them to listen to how the sound produced by the cetaceans was associated with the animals' feeding success on the seafloor.
The investigation revealed that the humpback whales produce "tick-tock" noises when they hunt together. Interestingly the animals are relatively silent when they are hunting alone.
The researchers also found that the cetaceans tend to dine on sand lance, an eel-like fish that bury itself under the sands of the ocean floor. Parks said that it is possible that the vocal sounds produced by the whales help get the sand lance out of the sand and to where they can be gobbled up by the marine giants.
The researchers also proposed the clock-like sound produced by the whales serves as a sort of dinner bell for other whales nearby during feedings at night tipping them of the meal.
"Paired burst sound production was associated exclusively with bottom feeding under low-light conditions, predominantly with evidence of associated conspecifics nearby suggesting that the sound likely serves either as a communicative signal to conspecifics, a signal to affect prey behavior, or possibly both," the researchers wrote.
Parks said that humpback whales cooperate with others when corralling prospective prey near the surface. Latest research suggests that the animals also collaborate with each other when they feed on prey deep in the ocean.
"Hints of behavior suggest that other whales who overhear the sounds are attracted to them and may eavesdrop on other whales hunting for food," Parks said.
The result of the investigation reveal more about the behavior of whales specifically how these marine animals are able to hunt regardless of the dark waters of the sea.