Research shows range of whale vocalisations

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Research shows range of whale vocalisations

The bowhead whale, which is occasionally seen around the UK, has a mind-boggling repertoire that hints at one of the most complex language structures of any mammal.

The research was conducted on a bowhead whale population near Svalbard, with one of the areas famous polar bears pictured here (Credit: Elfyn Pugh)

New research has been published that suggests a species of whale may have one of the most complex language structures of any mammal.

The bowhead whale, a species of baleen whale typically found in Arctic and sub-Arctic waters, was monitored near to Svalbard by researchers from University of Washington's Applied Physics Laboratory, according to a report on the BBC News website.

Incredibly, over a three year period the group identified over 180 distinct types of whale song, with vocalisations recorded 24 hours a day throughout the winter months.

The study, which was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, suggests that the bowhead whale repertoire may be the most complex of any mammal, including exceeding that of the humpback whale, which is famed for it's whale song.

"The alphabet for the bowhead has got thousands of letters as far as we can tell," Prof Kate Stafford, lead author of the study told BBC News.

"I really think of humpback whale songs as being like classical music. Very ordered. They might last 20 - 30 minutes. An individual [bowhead] song might only be 45 seconds to 2 minutes long, but they'll repeat that song over and over again," she added.

Though typically found in colder Arctic waters, bowhead whales have been seen near the Isles of Scilly and off of the coast of Belgium in recent years, and so are one of the species ORCA surveyors keep their eyes peeled for during their voyages.