National Geographic : 1972 Oct
among the whales. Bill had no more than slipped from the boat when a whale turned to face him. At a distance of only about three feet, it began slamming its head from side to side and up and down, churning and battering the shallow water into explosions of flying spray in an awesome display of raw power. Throughout this tempes tuous exhibition Bill held his ground. When the whale's frenzy had subsided, Bill swam slowly back to the boat, passed his camera carefully over the gunwale, pulled him self over the side, and said simply, "That was fascinating." Our most ambitious project, correlating whale sounds with be havior, was especially difficult because whales apparently make no special motions of their mouths or bodies while vocalizing. That's where the need for an array of underwater microphones came in: By measuring delays in arrival time of a whale's voice at each one, we hoped to determine the position of the sound source. Meanwhile, from the airplane, our spotter photographed the whales' activity and radioed a blow-by-blow account of their be havior. Later, we would try to unscramble the information and sort out which whale said what to whom in what situation. What makes up the "talk" of right whales? They revealed a com plex vocabulary of strangely haunting grunts and groans. But it may take years for us to interpret the sounds-if, indeed, we ever can. Right whales' hearing apparently is keen: When we would knock on the side of the boat, they would dive. To determine the sex of whales, we usually had to rely upon their behavior. One part of our study area seemed primarily a mating ground, another a nursery where, as spring progressed, mothers with calves predominated. Few females with calves stayed in the mating territory, where a great many males were always competing for partners. Mating appeared entirely promiscuous-the whales displayed no noticeable pair bond. Whale of a tail juts from the surface in a cetacean activity called lobtailing. Repeatedly, the massive flukes clap against the water with thunderous impact. One whale's lob tailing sometimes ap pears to cue others nearby to follow suit. The au thor's team hopes to learn the meaning of this and other forms of right whale behavior, including still undeciphered noises, or "speech."