Food talk: 40-Hz fin whale calls are associated with prey biomass

Miriam Romagosa, Sergi Pérez-Jorge, Irma Cascão, Helena Mouriño, Patrick Lehodey, Andreia Pereira, Tiago A Marques, Luís Matias, Mónica A Silva

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Animals use varied acoustic signals that play critical roles in their lives. Understanding the function of these signals may inform about key life-history processes relevant for conservation. In the case of fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus), that produce different call types associated with different behaviours, several hypotheses have emerged regarding call function, but the topic still remains in its infancy. Here, we investigate the potential function of two fin whale vocalizations, the song-forming 20-Hz call and the 40-Hz call, by examining their production in relation to season, year and prey biomass. Our results showed that the production of 20-Hz calls was strongly influenced by season, with a clear peak during the breeding months, and secondarily by year, likely due to changes in whale abundance. These results support the reproductive function of the 20-Hz song used as an acoustic display. Conversely, season and year had no effect on variation in 40-Hz calling rates, but prey biomass did. This is the first study linking 40-Hz call activity to prey biomass, supporting the previously suggested food-associated function of this call. Understanding the functions of animal signals can help identifying functional habitats and predict the negative effects of human activities with important implications for conservation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20211156
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings. Biological sciences
Issue number1954
Early online date7 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jul 2021


  • Song
  • Prey biomass
  • Ecosystem model
  • Fin whale
  • Food-associated call


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