Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Songs of Humpback Whales

Nature is endlessly fascinating...

1) Whales are musicians: Humpbacks have a range that covers eight octaves, from a bass so low that humans can't hear it to a magnificent soprano. Their highly structured songs include multiple themes that are constantly repeated and even rhyme. The whales embellish like jazz musicians, seeing who can improvise in some attractive way better than the other whale. Aside from attracting mates, singing is also believed to establish a hierarchy among male humpbacks. (Acoustic monitoring on a humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) feeding ground shows continual singing into late spring, Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences Volume 271, Number 1543 / May 22, 2004)

2) Whales have been found to sing in dialects. Blue whales off the Pacific Northwest sound different than blue whales in the western Pacific Ocean, and these sound different than those living off Antarctica. And they all sound different than the blue whales living near Chile. (Jan 2006 issue of BioScience)

3) Whalesong has grammar! During mating season, which lasts six months, all humpback males sing the same song to woo the ladies. Over time, the group's song becomes progressively more complex, although researchers don't know quite why. Presumably, as one whale finds mating success by tinkering with the song style, the rest of the guys imitate it to better their chances, said study co-author Ryuji Suzuki, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute predoctoral fellow.

Mathematical analysis of the whale song shows there are complex grammatical rules. Using syntax, the whales combine sounds into phrases, which they further weave into hours-long melodies packed with information. (Suzuki et al, Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, March 2006.)


Blogger teni said...

Hi, I still read through your site and enjoy your writing. I particularly like the drifting through of topics, it keeps the mood fresh, and I always learn something new - whether a reminder about life or some random tidbit. That with the whales reminded me of something - if you are interested in doing some searching, there is an orchestral piece which includes songs from whales :) "And God Created Whales" by Hovhaness. I played the violin during two performances of this piece, it's really neat if you can find a recording.

Your poem 'he cries' touched me, many friends of mine have died as a result of drunk drivers, it's quite alarming. It was actually identifying my anguish with that of a surviving drunk driver who killed 8 young men from my university that finally allowed me to release my feelings and forgive him in some way. Reading your poem reminded me of that unexpected and essential step that helped me move forward emotionally with thoughts of those close to me who have died.

I wanted to comment on so many of your articles, but, I must sleep.

Above all, I want to thank you for your writing, I frequently come to read here. I find it quite inspiring as it's exactly what I had hoped to write on my blog - sharing my experiences appreciating life in the smallest and largest ways.


2:20 PM  

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