Singing fin whale swimming behavior in the Central North Pacific

Regina A. Guazzo*, Ian N. Durbach, Tyler A. Helble, Gabriela C. Alongi, Cameron R. Martin, Stephen W. Martin, E. Elizabeth Henderson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Male fin whales sing using 20 Hz pulses produced in regular patterns of inter-note intervals, but little is known about fin whale swimming behavior while they are singing. Even less is known about fin whales in Hawaiian waters because they have rarely been sighted during surveys and passive acoustic monitoring has been limited to sparse hydrophone systems that do not have localization capabilities. We hypothesized that fin whale kinematics may be related to their singing behavior, or external variables such as time and sea state. To investigate this hypothesis, we analyzed 115 tracks containing 50,034 unique notes generated from passive acoustic recordings on an array of 14 hydrophones from 2011 to 2017 at the U.S. Navy Pacific Missile Range Facility off Kauai, Hawaii. Fin whales swam at an average speed of 1.1 m/s over relatively direct paths. We incorporated the whales' speed and turning angle into hidden Markov models to identify different behavioral states based on the whales' movements. We found that fin whale kinematic behavioral state was related to the vocalization rate (also known as cue rate) and time of day. When cue rate was higher, fin whales were more likely to swim slower and turn more than when cue rate was lower. During the night, fin whales were also more likely to swim slower and turn more than during the day. In addition, we examined whether the presence of singing fin whales was related to time and sea state using generalized additive models. Fin whale track presence was affected by day of the year and song season, and possibly also wind speed and wave height. Although the track kinematics from the fin whale tracks presented here are limited to a subset of whales that are acoustically active, they provide some of the only detailed movements of fin whales in the region and can be compared against fin whale swim speeds in other regions. Understanding how fin whale swimming behavior varies based on their vocalization patterns, time, and environmental factors will help us to contextualize potential changes in whale behavior during Navy training and testing on the range.
Original languageEnglish
Article number696002
Number of pages15
JournalFrontiers in Marine Science
Publication statusPublished - 3 Sept 2021


  • Marine Science
  • Fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus)
  • Kinematics
  • Swimming speed
  • Inter-note interval
  • Passive acoustic monitoring
  • Song (or singing)
  • Behavior
  • Marine ecology


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