Whale songs can travel nearly 5000 miles between never met groups

Over the years, the songs do evolve, but the pace of evolution is slow and measured. Researchers, however, noticed song revolutions in the South Pacific, where the whale groups have completely and rapidly changed their songs.

Song revolution in humpback whales

To understand what exactly was causing this phenomenon, researchers started analyzing whale songs from different areas in the South Pacific. In 2011, Ellen Garland, of the Scottish Oceans Institute at the University of St. Andrews found that distinct themes related to mating that was recorded off the coast of Australia were heard again in French Polynesia, some 3,700 miles (6,000 km) away.

To determine if these themes or songs had traveled further, she teamed up with researchers at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito in Ecuador and collected sound data from the region as well as from French Polynesia between the years 2016 and 2018. They then performed similarity analyses on these recordings to determine how alike the two songs were.

To their surprise, the researchers found that three separate songs appeared in Polynesia waters in 2016 and then in Ecuador in 2018, suggesting that the songs were traveling eastwards.

Why is this so important?

“These new song types are just so completely different – [they are] composed of the same sounds, but the arrangement is so different, they just literally jump off the computer screen and out of the headphones to us,” Garland told New Scientist. “These really rapid cultural changes are not seen in any other animal species, it’s happened so fast.”

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