Whales memorize and reproduce each other’s songs with high fidelity

(ORDO NEWS) — Until now, the ability to imitate – the exact repetition of the movements or signals of another individual – was considered uncharacteristic of marine mammals.

However, a study of the vocal repertoire of two separate populations of humpback whales showed that these giants memorize each other’s songs, and then reproduce them exactly.

Social learning is widespread in the animal kingdom, and information is transmitted from relative to relative by a wide variety of species, from mammals and birds to insects.

Most often, learning occurs between members of the same social group (for example, a mother and her offspring or animals from the same family), but there are also examples of interpopulation exchanges of information comparable to the diplomatic relations of human states.

Whales and their cultural traditions are one of the most popular models for studying social learning opportunities among non-primates.

Among the whales, humpbacks ( Megaptera novaeangliae ) are especially well studied : at different times, scientists have noted how these sea giants exchange new methods of obtaining food , better migration routes and complex songs.

Now scientists have found that the whales do not just adopt part of the experience of their relatives, modifying the songs they have. They accurately remember and reproduce the melodies heard from whales from other populations, with which they contact only during joint feeding or migration.

Such conclusions were made after studying the vocal repertoire of two separate humpback populations – East Australian and New Caledonian , which are found only off the coast of New Zealand and Antarctica, on the way to the places of fattening.

Regardless of the complexity and length of the song, the New Caledonian humpbacks reproduced the songs of their East Australian counterparts exactly, without missing anything or simplifying, and this was repeated over the years.

Cultural exchange of this intensity is rare for any species of animal, let alone whales, and the findings force us to once again pay attention to these amazing marine mammals, which are so unlike us externally, but differ so little internally.

Whales memorize and reproduce each others songs with high fidelity
Ranges of the East Australian and New Caledonian populations of humpbacks, as well as recording points of their songs

The researchers hope that their data will serve as a model for further study of the evolution of cultural communication in animals and humans, as well as draw public attention to the conservation of whale populations, which are still threatened by climate change, ocean pollution and human presence.

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