Hearing the sweet songs of an endangered species is music to a scientist's ear
New York City — The word "nature" is to New York City what "snow" is to Phoenix. For New Yorkers, particularly Manhattanites, it's not out of the norm to stroll down several blocks without seeing a single tree. Heck, in Times Square I once overheard a tour guide greet tourists with "welcome to the concrete jungle!"
For the above reason, New Yorkers are fascinated to hear tales about sightings of humpback whales. As for "hearing" and humpbacks, apparently our fellow mammals love to sing in the shower just as much as we do. Scientists, in response, started tracking whale songs to detect whenever they visit.
Julia Zeh, a doctoral candidate at Syracuse University, analyzed over 6,000 hours of underwater recordings captured by Cornell scientists. Zeh says she couldn’t believe her ears. “All of a sudden there in the background, it starts kind of quiet and then gets louder. I was so excited to hear it!”
As for why Zeh, and other scientists, sound more excited to hear male humpback whales sing than Bieber's fans before the concert starts, perhaps the reason lies in appreciation. (Only male humpback whales sing.)
There's an old saying in science that goes: the greater the known, the greater the judgment! In other words, scientists know whales are special, in particular to us — their fellow mammals. And just like us, whales are smart and have large brains. Speaking of "large," chew on this:
In the earth's 4.5 billion years of existence, whales are the biggest creatures of all.
Those humpbacks singing near the Big Apple can grow as large as 50 feet and weigh up to 70,000 pounds. Like standing beneath the Empire State Building, appreciation for the sheer size is enough to fill most with wonder. No wonder scientists are delighted to hear humpbacks singing near the concrete jungle.
But there's one more reason scientists appreciate hearing from our fellow mammals: like most whales, humpbacks are on the endangered species list.
From overfishing to pollution, whales have been clinging to life for quite a while now. In particular, commercial whaling has been disastrous for whale populations. There's even been cause for concern for the giant humpbacks spotted near the concrete jungle.
Due to how busy NYC's commercial waters are, they pose a major threat to an endangered species. Because no matter how massive humpbacks are, not even they can withstand being crashed into by ships made of steel.
“We’ve had whales playing in the channel before, and some pretty close encounters with some cargo ships," said Mitchell Steinhardt, a concerned naturalist.
Scientists hope by studying these whales’ songs they can help protect humpbacks in this region of the Atlantic. Sometimes we humans forget in nature’s economy the currency isn't money, it's life. "We don't own the planet Earth, we belong to it," Steve Irwin once said. "And we must share it with our wildlife."
Perhaps what we call humpbacks' singing is a "cry for help," merely asking us to lend an ear to fellow mammals. In short, whale watcher Cody Geil best summed up why scientists are so excited to hear from our giant fellow mammals:
The more people get to interact with them, they become real, and you care more.