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Dora Lewis

What do the whales sing?

What do the whales sing?

That whales make sounds like many other animals is something we all know. What maybe not everyone knows is that those sounds that we popularly know as ‘whale song’ are more like a song than we might think.

Unlike the largely genetically determined fixed sounds of other animals, the humpback whale’s song doesn’t stay the same over time. The songs that the male groups sing change from year to year, new musical phrases are added and others are abandoned, creating a complex puzzle for the scientists who are dedicated to their study. In some groups and geographic areas, the songs evolve rapidly, while in others the changes are slower.

However, once a change is introduced, the entire group of males adopts it to continue singing in their peculiar ‘chorus’. Additionally, they produce sounds similar to trumpets and (saxophone) moans, screeches, and trills, and their variability suggests that boreal whales can make almost any sound they want in any order they want.

How they do it, why and how many whales actually have this ability remains a mystery. However, it’s still surprising how the rhythm and the melody is something common to living beings.

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