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"We hoped to record a few little grunts and moans," Stafford said. "We were not expecting to get five months of straight singing."
Not only did they record singing nearly every hour of the day and night, they picked up more than 60 unique songs. A paper detailing their discoveries appears July 31 as the feature article in Endangered Species Research and is openly accessible online.
The variety of tunes was so surprising that the researchers compared the whales' song catalog to that of birds.
"Whether individual singers display one, multiple or even all call types, the size of the song repertoire for… bowheads in 2008-2009 is remarkable and more closely approaches that of songbirds than other… whales," they wrote in the report.
They have yet to learn why the whales sang so consistently last year.
Bowhead whales are massive creatures. They grow to over 60 feet long, may live to 200 years old and can weigh 200,000 pounds. They use their huge skulls to break through ice as thick as 1.5 feet.
Bowhead whale song is unique in that the whales appear to sing with "two voices," simultaneously producing high- and low-frequency sounds. The whales sometimes repeat the same tune for hours at a time.
Classification: The Bowhead Whale, Balaena mysticetus, was classified by Linnaeus in 1758, meaning 'moustached sea monster'.