The gunshot sound produced by male North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis) and its potential function in reproductive advertisement

Susan E Parks, Philip K. Hamilton, Scott D. Kraus, Peter L. Tyack

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

36 Scopus citations


North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis) make a short, distinctive broadband sound that is produced internally called a Gunshot sound. This sound has been recorded in the Bay of Fundy, Canada from both single whales (n = 9) and social surface active groups (n = 49). Those single whales producing Gunshot sounds whose sex could be determined (n = 9) were all mature males. Gunshot sounds were produced as part of a stereotyped behavioral sequence by these individuals, including frequent head-lifts and flipper slapping at the surface. In surface active groups, Gunshot sounds were commonly recorded when males were present in the group. The rate of production of Gunshot sounds was weakly correlated with the total number of males present in the group. Given the behavioral context of Gunshot sound production, and production of the sound only by male whales, Gunshots may function in a reproductive context as an advertisement signal to attract females, an agonistic signal directed toward other males, or a combination of the two functions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)458-475
Number of pages18
JournalMarine Mammal Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2005
Externally publishedYes



  • Acoustics
  • Bay of Fundy
  • Communication
  • Eubalaena glacialis
  • Gunshot sound
  • Male advertisement
  • Right whale
  • Surface active group

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology

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