Whale Song: A Popular Culture All Of Its Own

The first whale culture to be discovered was the ‘song’ of the humpback whale in the 1960s. At the time researchers did not know that what they were observing was cultural transmission between the whales, but they and the general public were so struck by the discovery that the whales were ‘singing’ that humpback whale song was even included in the Golden Record sent into outer space in the late 1970s on the Voyager spacecraft.

At the time researchers did not know that what they were observing was cultural transmission between the whales, but they and the general public were so struck by the discovery that the whales were ‘singing’ that humpback whale song was even included in the Golden Record sent into outer space in the late 1970s on the Voyager spacecraft.

Since its first discovery humpback song has been studied in many parts of the world. Male humpbacks sing the longest, most complex songs in the animal kingdom. Songs consist of a complex series of whistles, squeals and deep calls. Their songs may last for as long as half an hour and are divided into 'verses' which are sung in a specific order.
 
Scientist have discovered that humpback song is transmitted between groups in a similar fashion to our own ‘pop’ songs. “At any time, all the males in any ocean basin sing nearly the same ‘song’, but this song evolves a little over months and more substantially over years”, noted whale biologist Hal Whitehead in the book ‘Whales and Dolphins: Cognition, Culture, Conservation and Human Perception’.
 
Listen to a Humpback’s song
Learn more about Humpback whales