Something surprising has been discovered about the singing of humpback whales

Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae), also known as longfin whales, sing the same tunes from the east coast of Australia through French Polynesia to their breeding grounds near Ecuador, more than 15,000 kilometers in total.

Male humpback whales have been known to have “jazz-like” mating songs during the breeding season, with each group having slightly different songs that bring them together in unique ways. These phrases are often referred to by science as “themes” and each song has several of these.

However, from time to time, the growing population undergoes a so-called “song revolution”, in which the themes sung by males are replaced by new ones.

It is not yet clear to experts why they do this, but previous studies have shown that these minor tweaks can become “successes”, so they are adopted by others.

At the turn of the century, groups of humpback whales living on the west coast of Australia were found to share this theme, so to speak, with those living on the east coast. Years later, individuals breeding near French Polynesia sang the same themes of songs as those on the east coast of Australia, some 6000 km away.Now it looks like the whale song may be spreading more. The Royal Society of Open Science A study published in a scientific journal suggests that songs can migrate from French Polynesia across the Pacific Ocean to South America, another 8,000 kilometers to the east.

Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) with a calf (illustration)Source: Biosphoto / Gabriel Barathieu / Biosphoto / Gabriel Barathieu

Scientists recorded these melodies for three years (from 2016 to 2018), who were able to gradually map the “song revolution”.
This study demonstrates that songs first identified in Western populations are widespread throughout the South Pacific – Researchers wrote that ScienceAlert The online science portal cites. – This supports the possibility of cultural transmission of song in the southern circular hemisphere and a lyrical culture rivaled only by our own.

It is not yet clear whether whale songs can spread to the Indian Ocean and then return to the shores of Australia. The New York times However, preliminary results off the coasts of Brazil and South Africa show that perhaps a full circumnavigation of the planet may indeed be possible.

Fin whales share their songs over 15,000 kmSource: UWPhotog / iStock

Studying humpback whale song culture not only parallels the song characteristics of songbirds, but also sheds light on the basic mechanisms of social learning and cultural evolution in animals, from fish to other cetacean species to humans. Write the authors of the study.

Experts aren’t yet sure how these whale songs are shared between neighboring whale groups, but they do have a theory. Male whales not only sing during the winter breeding season, but they also exercise in the summer. If these melodies are attractive enough, they will catch the attention of other residents. In this case, whale songs can travel around the world in stages.

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