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Frustrated Alaskan fishermen, and some cool video, have led Scripps Institution of Oceanography whale experts to a new understanding of how and why sperm whales produce sounds.

In a paper published in this month’s issue of the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, Scripps researchers Delphine Mathias and Aaron Thode for the first time show how the size of a sperm whale’s head determines the clicking sounds it makes.

This new insight could lead to a better understanding of the biology behind marine mammal sounds and a more accurate count of their populations, according to a Scripps news release.

They have gained this insight thanks to a group of Alaskan fishermen, who several years ago began complaining about the whales stealing black cod off their deep-sea fishing lines. In 2004, the researchers attached recording equipment to the lines, and in 2006 began taking video, according to the Scripps release.

The rare recordings of the feeding behavior not only showed the fishermen how their bait was getting nabbed, but allowed researchers to match a whale’s clicking sound to the size of its head and discover that the clicking became louder and more rapid as the whale approached its prey. Knowing this could make it easier for researchers to get accurate counts of whale populations.

Here is the video — it’s definitely worth a look:

DAVID WASHBURN

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