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Snippet of Overheard at National Geographic

From Audio: Humpback Hit Factory

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Duration: 04:58
Discover the whale song sensation that's sweeping the pacific
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Discover the whale song sensation that's sweeping the pacific
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I knew that To get to the bottom of this, I needed to talk to a whale. Music mogul Simon Cowl of the Sea. I'm Dr Ellen Garland. I'm at the University of ST Andrews and I research humpback whale song culture This humpback whale song phenomenon we're talking about. That's Ellen specialty. But to help us understand it, Ellen's going to start by giving us some whale song. 101 thes are extremely acoustic creatures. It's all about sound. All humpback whales use sound to communicate, but it's just the males who do those big song performances that Brian Skerry was describing. Researchers think they're a mating thing, like a sexual display. But how these sexy whale songs actually function is still a bit of a mystery. We're not really sure if the song is directed at females trying to attract them in saying, I'm big, I'm strong. Please come on, mate with me or whether they're singing to other males saying that you know, I'm big, I'm strong and I'm going to out compete you whatever is going on here, it's super important to these whales, and it's a lot more complex and interesting than your typical animal mating. Call the songs themselves air complex, too. In fact, your average whale top 40 tunes breaks down a lot like a human one. You start with a basic set of units. So for humans that would be pitches and notes and rests for humpbacks, it's my grown well box. Uh huh. On then, a few units are arranged in a sequence, which makes the phrase phrases get repeated and arranged to make themes. Then you stick a few themes together, and you've got yourself a humpback whale song. It's kind of like how a human pop song has a first verse and then a second verse and then a chorus that we'll probably hear a couple times. Maybe there's a dance break. Then put that song on. Repeat, and then the song is sung over and over and over again for many hours by an individual. Michael Mhm. Another fascinating thing to know here is that humpbacks or big time conformists when it comes to their musical tastes. In fact, if you're listening in on a male singing, there's a 99% chance he's singing basically the same song that you hear from every other male in that population. But that doesn't mean that they're stuck singing the same thing forever. As time goes on, the songs evolved, so small changes occur in the song, so units can be substituted or deleted or added and the same for the teams. But all males will make these same changes to their song. We could then trace it, evolving a nice little steps as one really nice song lineage. Take this little chunk of song recorded back in 2002. In this theme, we've got a bellows that's that sound, and then three croaks. Okay, But over the next several years, whales keep making these tiny tinkering little changes, and the theme slowly morphs. So by the time we hit the year 2000 and eight, that Bella's has changed into a long growl with this little bird trill of the end and the three croaks, Uh, I've split off into these little per barks, right? This is the way whale songs normally evolve through these small evolutionary steps that happen very slowly. But there's one particular corner of the South Pacific down around. Where Ellen works where things get really funky happens every couple of years, Ellen will have been tracking a song. So sometimes we have thes longest songs can be a little nicely melodic. Then you sort of see nice evolution of song through time. And then suddenly they throw that straight out the window. Aled, these males rapidly and synchronously abandoned their current song and they learn this brand new song typing. It has no similarity to the previous song arrangement. Suddenly you've got shorter themes on DSM, really annoying a sending sound which do not sound very nice to listen. Thio Ellen and her colleagues call these rapid shifts song revolutions. I mean, it's such a clear change and you can hear it when when you hear a new song type coming, you're like, Wait, what are they doing to figure out what they're doing? You actually need to zoom out and listen to the songs, whales or singing across the whole ocean.
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