Date of Completion


Document Type

Honors College Thesis


Department of Biology

Thesis Type

Honors College, College of Arts and Science Honors

First Advisor

Dr. Ingi Agnarsson

Second Advisor

Dr. Laura May-Collado

Third Advisor

Dr. Maria Woolson


acoustic communication, conservation, cultural transmission; engine noise; humpback whale; song


The humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) is a species of marine mammal famed for its charisma and song. This thesis focuses on the population of whales that feeds in the Pacific waters off the coast of Chile and the Antarctic Peninsula and breeds in the Pacific waters off the coast of Ecuador and Central America, which constitutes a poorly known breeding ground. Studies have previously shown that these whales are capable of cultural transmission, which is to pass on song elements over space and time, allowing scientists to track them around the world. Cultural transmission implies acoustic contact and can assist in establishing migratory routes and population overlaps. This thesis has 3 distinct studies which have been segregated by chapters. The first and last chapters of this thesis serve as an introduction and conclusion respectively. In chapter 2, I describe the average breeding song of 2016 of Costa Rica using data collected with autonomous hydrophone recorders. I found 14 phrases grouped into 4 themes. This song changed over the season and varied between individuals, consistent with other studies. In chapter 3, I describe the pace of song change between the period of 2007-2017 using data collected in Panama and Costa Rica. The pace of change increased over this period, suggesting that this population is not acoustically isolated. In chapter 4, we examine the effects of engine noise of acoustic behavior. We find that whales are significantly more quiet in the presence of engine noise. In countries where ecotourism is present, like Costa Rica, the education of boat drivers and fishing industry is imperative to the preservation of this species. Countries fortunate enough to have these creatures call their waters home have an obligation to protect them against anthropogenic threats through education and the implementation of eco-friendly policy.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.