Whales have trendy tunes too!

Last Updated: Monday, April 18, 2011 - 13:30

Washington: Believe it or not, male whales have trendy tunes alike humans -- in fact, they modify their songs to differ from their rivals during courtship, that results in the new tunes every year, a new study has revealed.

Researchers, led by the University of Queensland, have found that male humpback whales "change their tune" every year during their migration across the Pacific, the latest edition of the `Current Biology` journal reported.

The study has revealed a striking pattern of cultural change over a large distance, with the rate, scale and even repetition unmatched in non-human culture.

The researchers said 11 different humpback whale song types were identified, which typically started in the eastern Australian population and spread in a step-wise fashion across the region to French Polynesia.

"We noticed that the songs moved quite rapidly through the six populations, usually taking two years to spread all the way across the region. This can compare to the game of
Chinese whispers, except the song appears to be transmitted with little changes unlike a human sentence in the game," lead researcher Ellen Garland said.

Garland said songs had spread across whale populations suggesting acoustic contact or male dispersal between populations in the region. "The reason we believe the song tends to travel east is because the eastern Australian population is the largest in the region and has a greater influence than the smaller Oceania ones," she said.

Previous research revealed that only male humpback whales sing and that song is a behaviour used in courtship and mating. But, Garland said all of the males in a population
sang a similar song, but it was continually changing and evolving over time.

"Song can undergo evolutionary change, which occurs over a long period of time, or revolutionary change, where the males start singing a completely new song. We believe the song is continually changing because the males wish to be novel or slightly different to the male singing next to them.

"The way whales change their song can be compared to how humans follow fashion trends -- someone starts a new trend and before you know it everyone starts wearing the same thing," she said.

PTI



First Published: Monday, April 18, 2011 - 13:30

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