Songs are Being Learned by Whales on Shared Migration

Humpback whales can learn incredibly complex songs from whales from other regions.

New Caledonian humpback whale. Image credit Opération Cétacés

That’s the findings of a study led by the University of Queensland.  New Caledonian humpback whales could learn songs from their counterparts from Australia’s east coast with remarkable accuracy. The study looked closely at the song patterns of male humpback whales from each region between 2009 and 2015.

whale song

Dr Jenny Allen explained:

“This really indicates a level of ‘cultural transmission’ beyond any observed non-human species.

“By listening to the Australian humpback population, we were able to see if the songs changed in any way when sung by the New Caledonian whales.

“We found they actually learned the exact sounds, without simplifying or leaving anything out.

“And each year we observed them they sang a different song, so it means humpback whales can learn an entire song pattern from another population very quickly, even if it’s complex or difficult.

“It’s rare for this degree of cultural exchange to be documented on such a large scale in a non-human species.

“We hope these findings provide a model for further study into understanding the evolution of cultural communication in animals and humans.”

The findings support the idea that songs are being learned by whales on shared migration routes like New Zealand or shared feeding grounds like Antarctica.

The research is a collaboration with Opération Cétacés from New Caledonia and has been published in Scientific Reports.

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