We stopped the boat about two miles offshore, and switched off the engines. Immediately we could hear the singing of a humpback whale. I have heard them underwater many times. They are the ocean equivalent of birdsong in a forest; their moaning songs playing in the background, sometimes coming from miles away. But to hear the sound in the air is most unusual. It meant the whale was very close indeed.
So we donned our gear and slipped in. And there were its tail flukes, fifteen feet beneath us. Singing humpbacks usually hang vertically, head down. Swimming down, I could see its immense body hanging motionless below me.
And now the sound was intense. I was not just hearing it through my ears; my whole body was resonating with its song. The moaning base notes were vibrating through my chest. My muscles were quivering with the shrill chirping.
After ten minutes or so, having completed a cycle of its song, it gently surfaced, still singing, and looking curiously at these strange leggy creatures that had appeared next to it. Then it sank back down, head first, to continue singing.
Since then I have listened to whale songs continuously for many hours. (To listen, see below) Hearing long stretches of song, I’ve become aware of how each phrase of the song is repeated with a slight variation, progressively transforming the phrase into something completely different, and then continuing to transform until it ends up back where it started. That is one complete cycle. The next cycle is a slightly different variation, and the next slightly different again.
Listening to the singing I have began to get a sense for how it might feel to be a whale. It could, of course, all be anthropocentric projection, nevertheless, when I hear those long yearning calls, or those bubbling stochato chirps, I imagine that the way I feel is the way the whale feels. Whalesong is a window into the whale soul.


Listen to whalesong. There’s a hydrophone hanging from a buoy off the coast of Kihei in Maui, which broadcasts live whalesong on the net.
More info at http://www.whalesong.net

Leave a Reply