Humpback whales 14,000 km apart sing the same songs

(ORDO NEWS) — Humpback whales across the South Pacific are connected to each other through a common song, according to a new study.

From the east coast of Australia to French Polynesia and breeding grounds off the coast of Ecuador – a total distance of more than 14,000 kilometers (8,700 miles) – researchers have heard humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) rehash the same viral hits.

Male humpback whales are known to sing ‘as complex as jazz’ mating songs during the breeding season, and each population has a slightly different chorus of vocalizations that they put together in a unique way.

These repeated phrases are known as “themes”, and there are several of them in each whale song.

However, from time to time a song “revolution” occurs in the breeding population, as a result of which all the themes performed by males are replaced by new ones.

It’s unclear why they do this, but previous research has shown that these subtle changes can be a hit.

Around the turn of the century, humpback whale populations on the west coast of Australia were found to share themes with populations on the east coast.

Then, a few years later, breeding populations near French Polynesia were caught playing the same song themes as on the east coast of Australia, some 6,000 kilometers (3,730 miles) away.

Now it looks like songs can spread even further. Researchers have shown that whale songs in French Polynesia can migrate directly across the Pacific to South America, another 8,000 kilometers (4,970 miles) to the east.

Over the course of three years, from 2016 to 2018, the team was able to map the gradual revolution of songs that were first played in French Polynesia and then again off the coast of South America just a few years later.

“This study demonstrates that songs first discovered in Western populations can be transmitted throughout the South Pacific, supporting the possibility of a circumpolar cultural transmission of songs in the Southern Hemisphere and a vocal culture rivaled only by our own,” they wrote. researchers.

At the moment, it is not clear if the songs of the whales can migrate across the Indian Ocean to return to the shores of Australia.

But according to The New York Times, preliminary results off the coast of Brazil and South Africa suggest that a full circumnavigation of the planet is indeed possible.

However, by the time the whale song returns to its original population, it will most likely have evolved beyond recognition. It is quite possible that, having circumnavigated the planet, the whales, in fact, are laying a completely new track.

“Studying the song culture of humpback whales not only draws parallels with the characteristics of songbird songs, but also sheds light on the underlying mechanisms of social learning and cultural evolution in animals ranging from fish and other cetaceans to humans,” the authors write.

While experts cannot say exactly how these songs are transmitted between neighboring whale populations, they have a leading hypothesis.

While we don’t know where humpback whales in French Polynesia usually spend their summer months looking for food, if they feed in the same area as Ecuadorian whale populations, it’s possible they trade tunes as they gain weight or migrate across the Pacific.

Male whales, as it turned out, sing not only during the winter breeding season. Numerous testimonies indicate that they are practiced in the summer. And these melodies can be catchy enough to catch the attention of a different population.

If this is the case, then, according to the researchers, whale songs may spread around the world in stages. First, the song revolution begins in one population, and then, in the summer, this population migrates to feed, passing it on to the neighboring population. And so on and so forth.

The researchers suggest that the eastern trend is due to differences in population sizes as songs move from larger to smaller groups.

To test this theory, it would be interesting to see if the songs created in Australia’s large western populations are moving in the opposite direction.

Since the late 1990s, researchers in and around Australia have been collecting evidence that whale songs can change and migrate within and between populations.

It took decades, but now scientists listen to songs all over the world.

It won’t be long before we find out how far hunchback songs can travel.

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