National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2017

A pulsed-air model of blue whale B call vocalizations

Dziak, R.P., J.H. Haxel, T.-K. Lau, S. Heimlich, J. Caplan-Auerbach, D.K. Mellinger, H. Matsumoto, and B. Mate

Scientific Reports, 7, 9122, doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-09423-7, Available online (2017)

Blue whale sound production has been thought to occur by Helmholtz resonance via air flowing from the lungs into the upper respiratory spaces. This implies that the frequency of blue whale vocalizations might be directly proportional to the size of their sound-producing organs. Here we present a sound production mechanism where the fundamental and overtone frequencies of blue whale B calls can be well modeled using a series of short-duration (<1 s) wavelets. We propose that the likely source of these wavelets are pneumatic pulses caused by opening and closing of respiratory valves during air recirculation between the lungs and laryngeal sac. This vocal production model is similar to those proposed for humpback whales, where valve open/closure and vocal fold oscillation is passively driven by airflow between the lungs and upper respiratory spaces, and implies call frequencies could be actively changed by the animal to center fundamental tones at different frequency bands during the call series.

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