Whales Have Talent

Humpback whales have built a solid reputation as wandering troubadours, plying their trade across the South Pacific. The hotspot for song writing is off the eastern Australian coast where the singer/songwriters audition for the big time. The big time is really huge, as all the guys in a population learn the same song and sing it all the time.

These whale versions of Pop songs are split into verses, which are then repeated. Their tonal range is startling and the very low notes can carry enormous distances ensuring a wide audience. Recordings of humpbacks singing are widely available so we can groan and shriek along even if we don’t understand the words.

Whales being whales, and males to boot, are never quite satisfied with the product and must tune tweak and change verses, so their songs develop over time. Garland et al from U of Queensland have been avidly studying recordings and have just published their results (1,2). During the whale’s 4,000 mile singing tours, pirated copies of the songs turn up in local populations along the route, with the result that songs with the same roots are heard all across the Pacific, with local tweaks creeping in here and there of course.

  1. http://www.cell.com/current-biology/abstract/S0960-9822(11)00291-0
  2. http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_9457000/9457855.stm

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