San Francisco State Professor Roger Bland recorded 4,378 blue whale songs near Half Moon Bay, California using underwater microphones. He then analyzed their B calls or the second half of their long songs. His analysis showed all the B calls made by the whales were the same frequency of 16.02 Hertz, four octaves below middle C.
Bland said, “If whales are so super accurate in always calling at the exact same pitch, then it’s possible that they could be able to detect tiny shifts in other whales’ calls caused by the Doppler shift.” (Source: San Francisco State News)
The difference in pitches for the thousands of whale calls was only one half of one percent, which means the whales have “perfect pitch”. Normally this is a term applied to humans who can distinguish between tones and semi-tones to the degree they can hear and identify them all.
For blue whales it is thought their perfect pitch is something that could help them find mates. It is mainly males who produce the songs. Females could use their very sensitive sound detection to determine if the call is from a male whale moving toward or away from because sound pitch varies according to the speed of emitter. Known as the Doppler Shift, it is the effect of a pitch being higher when a sound is traveling toward a listener and lower when moving away.
Blue whale calls are two parts – an A call that is a series of pulses, and a B call which is a long sustained tone, sometimes called a moan. Professor Bland noted their pitch sensitivity allows them to stay connected through sound, “…like a choir singing together where they all mutually tune in to the same frequency.” (Source: MercuryNews.com) Here is a sound clip from his research.
Blue whales are the largest mammals in the world.
Image Credit: Public Domain