Cornell aids discovery of blue whale singing in New York coastal waters

For the first time, the voices of singing blue whales have been identified in New York coastal waters.

Acoustics experts at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Bioacoustics Research Program (BRP) and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) confirmed that the voice of a singing blue whale was tracked about 70 miles off Long Island and New York City Jan. 10-11, as the whale slowly swam from east to west. At the same time, a second blue whale was heard singing in the far distance.

"These endangered blue whales are the largest animals ever to have lived on this planet, and their voices can travel across an ocean. It's just amazing to hear one singing out there on New York's ocean stage only tens of miles from Carnegie Hall and Broadway," said Christopher Clark, director of Cornell's BRP. "This opens a whole new universe of opportunities for all of us to learn more about and appreciate these species and the vitality of New York's marine environment."

New York state's DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis added, "This is a very important moment in the environmental history of New York state. Blue whales were almost hunted to extinction by the middle of the 20th century, and the fact that now we're finding them migrating not far off our shores is truly remarkable. Although whaling no longer occurs in U.S. waters, whales still face numerous threats, including vessel strikes and marine debris, and this latest finding will enable DEC and its partners to develop science-based management plans to protect these magnificent creatures."

During 2008-09, Cornell deployed 10 acoustic recorders about 13 miles from the New York Harbor entrance and off the shores of Fire Island to study the acoustic environment of New York waters and examine whether noise, including shipping traffic, affects the whales. By knowing the whales' seasonal presence, New York state policymakers can make critical conservation decisions to help protect blue whales by developing management plans to avoid ship collisions with whales and reduce noise that interferes with their communications.

The acoustic monitoring was carried out from March through mid-May of 2008 to record the northward migration of right whales from their calving grounds off the Florida eastern coast to their feeding grounds off Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. The study had been temporarily halted due to state funding revisions; however, it is expected to start up again pending approval of the next New York state budget. Cornell scientists are able to monitor and provide specific data on the species that are detected, including when and where they occur in New York waters throughout the year.

For more information on the discovery of blue whales off New York, related videos and Cornell's Bioacoustics Program, visit

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