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Scientists Discover Humpback Whales Singing In Waters Far North From Usual Breeding Grounds

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) - Humpback whale sightings have increased recently in the waters off New York City. And now for the first time, scientists have proof these animals are singing in the area, not just in their Caribbean breeding grounds.

The study's lead author, Julia Zeh, analyzed more than 6,000 hours of underwater recordings captured by Cornell University scientists and says she couldn't believe her ears.

"All of a sudden there in the background, it starts kind of quiet and then gets louder. I was so excited to hear it!" she tells CBS News correspondent Bradley Blackburn.

They sound mysterious, even eerie to us, but to whales, they may be love songs, loud and long, and sometimes lasting hours.

"They all sing the same song within a population. And that song changes from year to year, kind of like pop songs," Zeh says. Songs have only been recorded from male humpback whales. They can be heard underwater for more than 20 miles.

While more of these massive humpbacks have been spotted near New York City, these are also busy commercial waters, and one of the biggest threats to this endangered species is ship strikes.

"We've had whales playing in the channel before, and some pretty close encounters with some cargo ships," says Mitchell Steinhardt, naturalist and whale photographer.

But scientists say studying their songs could help protect humpbacks in this part of the Atlantic.

"The more people get to interact with them, they become real. And you care more," says Cody Geil, a whale watcher.

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