I am trying to determine a list of frequency ranges into which marine mammal vocalizations fall. Ideally, I would like a list showing where the most popular marine mammal vocalizations fall, followed by the species name. That being said, I only really care about frequencies above 20 kHz, should they exist.

Example: (Numbers fabricated)

  • Orcas : 30-40 kHz
  • Dolphins : 100 kHz
  • Blue Whales : 60-88 kHz


Even if the list is 'quick and dirty', thats ok. The list will essentially point me to which species' songs/sounds I need to study.

Some additional context, this wikipedia link as well as this one have some nice sound files of many marine mammals' songs/sounds. I am trying to avoid having to download each one and analyze their spectral content. (I could, but would rather not).

  • $\begingroup$ Are you trying to find a list of frequency ranges, a range into which most vocalizations fall, or a list of marine mammals which vocalize above 20 kHz? It's three different (but similar) questions. $\endgroup$
    – Shep
    May 2, 2012 at 9:23
  • $\begingroup$ @Shep I edited. $\endgroup$
    – Spacey
    May 2, 2012 at 14:40

5 Answers 5


Here there are spectrograms from Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus), Killer whales (Orcinus orca) and False killer whales (Pseudorca crassidens).

Here there are spectrograms for Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) and from Sperm whales (Physeter catodon or Physeter marcocephalus)

Here there are spectrograms from Blue whale, Fin whale and Minke whale.

Some other google search for "spectrogram + your preferred cetaceans" should make your list. Enjoy.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you. The majority seem to fall under ~20 KHz. Is this more or less true of marine mammals? $\endgroup$
    – Spacey
    May 2, 2012 at 16:40

Dolphins can hear above 110 kHz, and produce vocalizations in this range. Clicking has evolved in proposes and sperm whales and is predominantly above 100 kHz (to avoid being heard by killer whales). It's a bit subjective, of course: if you do a frequency decomposition of a click, it will always have some component with very high frequency.

That dolphins have evolved into such an niche highlights a problem with asking about "most" marine mammals, though: evolution often favors diversification between species, so you'd expect very different vocal ranges, to the point that many species have no overlap at all. (for the sake of illustration, ask yourself where most people live)

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you Shep I have edited the post for additional info/context. $\endgroup$
    – Spacey
    May 2, 2012 at 14:46
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Dwarf and Pygmy sperm whale clicks contain energy above 100 kHz, but sperm whales actually have lower frequency clicks with most energy below 20 kHz. $\endgroup$
    – ASimonis
    Nov 16, 2018 at 22:47

Baleen whale calls are typically low frequency (less than 5 kHz), with blue whales and fin whales producing the lowest frequency calls ranging from about 10 - 100 Hz, and some minke whale and humpback whale calls can extend up to 24 kHz.

Sperm whale echolocation clicks range from 500 Hz to 30 kHz. Dolphin whistles typically range from 1 to 25 kHz, though some orca whistles are above 30 kHz. Most dolphin echolocation clicks range from 5 to 130 kHz, while some dolphins, porpoise, and kogia species (dwarf and pygmy sperm whales) produce narrow-band high-frequency clicks in the 100 to 130 kHz range.


  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Hi and welcome to Bio.SE. Thanks for posting. However, please provide support for your claims. Unsupported posts come across as opinions and are best reserved for comments. We have high expectations of good answers on this site to help avoid the spread of misinformation. Please consider revising your answer to provide some sort of support to attract more positive attention and to better (and more accurately) inform our future visitors. Thanks! $\endgroup$ Dec 10, 2018 at 23:33

A quick reference point is dosits.org; their audio gallery has additional information on the species and references. This reference site was developed based on research (and much of it by researchers), so it is reasonably trustworthy and I suspect they update it periodically.

In general, above 20kHz is the realm of dolphins/porpoises. Echolocation clicks are short broadband clicks-- so they cover a very wide range of frequencies in a short little clicks.


All toothed whale echolocation clicks fall above 20 kHz (except sperm whales).

In addition to echolocation, porpoises and some of the small dolphin species also use ~130 kHz clicks for communication.

If you are interested in echolocation click frequencies, then this paper (which I co-authored) provides a detailed comparison and discussion of the frequency content of toothed whale clicks. This paper also includes a table (Document S1. Table S1.) that summarizes biosonar click parameters of some 38 toothed whale species.

When acoustic recorders are placed directly on species like porpoises, frequencies above 200 kHz can be recorded, but it is only the energy below ~150 kHz that is likely to be relevant for echolocation, as this is about the upper hearing limit of porpoises and other small cetaceans (you can find an overview of audiograms and references on marine mammal hearing in this paper).


Sørensen, P. M., Wisniewska, D. M., Jensen, F. H., Johnson, M., Teilmann, J., & Madsen, P. T. (2018). Click communication in wild harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena). Scientific Reports, 8(1), 1-11.

Jensen, F. H., Johnson, M., Ladegaard, M., Wisniewska, D. M., & Madsen, P. T. (2018). Narrow acoustic field of view drives frequency scaling in toothed whale biosonar. Current Biology, 28(23), 3878-3885.

Southall, B. L., Finneran, J. J., Reichmuth, C., Nachtigall, P. E., Ketten, D. R., Bowles, A. E., ... & Tyack, P. L. (2019). Marine mammal noise exposure criteria: updated scientific recommendations for residual hearing effects. Aquatic Mammals, 45(2).


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