U.S. Department of Commerce


Date of this Version



J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 145 (6), June 2019



U.S. government work


This paper describes song production by the eastern North Pacific right whale (NPRW, Eubalaena japonica) in the southeastern Bering Sea. Songs were localized in real-time to individuals using sonobuoys. Singers whose sex could be determined were all males. Autonomous recorder data from 17 year-long deployments were analyzed to document and characterize song types. Four distinct song types were documented over eight years (2009–2017) at five distinct locations. Each song type consists of a hierarchical structure of 1–3 different repeating phrases comprised predominantly of gunshot sounds; three of the four songs contained additional sound types (downsweep, moan, and low-frequency pulsive call). Songs were detected annually (July–January); all song types remained consistent over eight years. Two different songs often occurred simultaneously, produced by different individuals; the same song was never detected simultaneously at the same location. The same song type was detected on the same day and time at two distant locations, indicating multiple individuals can produce the same song. These findings provide support that males produce song; it remains unknown if females also sing. NPRW is the first right whale species documented to produce song. Based on current knowledge about song in mysticetes, it is hypothesized that these songs are reproductive displays.