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Scientists Excited About Humpback Whales Singing In Waters Off New York City

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Sightings of humpback whales in the waters off New York City have increased in recent years.

But it's the sound of the majestic mammals that's exciting scientists in the area, CBS2's Bradley Blackburn reported Sunday.

Board a ship and head just a few miles from the Big Apple and it doesn't take long to spot real-life giants.

They are humpback whales that can be seen and now heard, too.

For the first time, scientists have proof of humpbacks singing in this area -- not just in their Caribbean breeding grounds.

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Lead study author Julia Zeh analyzed more than 6,000 hours of underwater recordings captured by Cornell scientists and said 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," say Zeh, a doctoral candidate at Syracuse University.

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They sound mysterious, even eerie to humans, 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 said.

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

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

Scientists say studying the whales' 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," whale watcher Cody Geil said.

A siren song, asking us to listen.

Scientists say songs have only been recorded from male humpback whales. They can be heard underwater for more than 20 miles.

CBS2's Bradley Blackburn contributed to this report

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