Camille Moreau, edited by LéaEspagnet / Photo credit: PHILIPPE ROY / Aurimages via AFP 8:32 a.m., February 27, 2024

A new study published on February 21 in the journal Nature reveals the mystery of the song mechanism of humpback whales and blue whales.

Researchers from Denmark, the United States and Austria have identified, deep in the larynx, what allows these mammals to produce these unique sounds.

A story of membranes.

How do whales sing?

This question was previously unanswered by scientists and yet the mystery seems to have been resolved.

A study published in the scientific journal Nature states that these mammals manage to produce these varied sounds thanks to their very particular larynx. 

In fact, all you have to do is observe the bottom of the whale's larynx, which is lined with membranes.

They vibrate when the whale is underwater in apnea, and expels air from its lungs.

The membranes begin to resonate like vocal cords in humans, explains Olivier Adam, researcher at Paris Saclay University.


- Space: do white holes, the exact opposite of black holes, really exist?

Scientists wonder

A 40 million year old mechanism

“By choosing in a controlled manner the surface of the membranes that the whale will vibrate, it will be able to modulate the frequency and amplitude of the sounds it emits,” he explains.

“We can imagine that there will be different meanings for communicating with other whales in the surrounding area. Otherwise, they would only have high or low frequency vocalizations, they would not make a mix.” 

Researchers also assume that this mechanism is very old, around 40 million years ago, when these animals evolved from land to sea. It was during this period that whales must have developed a way to allowing communication to be maintained.

A first mystery solved, the next step will be to decipher the whales, understand their language and, perhaps one day, communicate with them.