Valley Girl Whales


Valley girls and whales unite!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Certain whales use echolocation clicks to catch prey. Despite being an important skill, scientists weren’t really sure how they made the sound. What’s the source of the clicking?  

Peter Madsen from Aarhus University in Denmark and team wondered. 

They imaged a part of a whale nose called the phonic lips. At the same time, they measured the change in air pressure during click production. Researchers also took x-rays to assess whale anatomy… and audio recordings as the lips opened and closed.

Results? Whales use their phonic lips for echolocation clicks. By doing so they produced a vocal fry. This is the lowest tone of the voice characterized by its creaky sound. It’s frequently heard in the Valley Girl dialect — Think, the Kardashians! 

The researchers found clicking requires little breath. This allows for efficient prey catching. Vocal fry, while annoying in humans, is an evolutionary success for toothed whales!

And that’s just, like, toootally, awesoooome.    


Ravignani, A., Herbst, C. T. (2023). Voices in the ocean, Science, 379, 6635, (881-882) . /doi/10.1126/science.adg5256