Whale "Pop Song" Sweeps the Ocean

Just like humans, whales also have "pop songs," complete with music mania that sweeps across the ocean:

The findings are based on 11 years of recordings from underwater microphones slung over the sides of boats, which were collected by marine biologist Ellen Garland of the University of Queensland in Australia and colleagues. Picking out the patterns took a while; the team had to listen to 745 songs in total from six whale populations across the South Pacific over the 11-year period. The researchers identified 11 distinctly different styles (audio). Sometimes the "hit song" contained snippets from previous seasons, sometimes it was entirely revolutionary. But at any given time and place, there was only one song. What's more, the popular song switched incredibly rapidly; it took only 2 to 3 months for whales in a given region to entirely change their tune, the team reports online today in Current Biology.

For male whales, singing is known to be a mating behavior, and Garland calls the results a "weird interaction of constrained novelty" where each whale wants to one-up the whale next to it but still feels pressure to conform enough that it doesn't stand out as an oddball. But whether a whale primarily intends its song to impress females or to intimidate other males with its swanky style remains unclear.

Humpback Idol, anyone? Link


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