ANIMALS – A circular and musical revolution. According to a recent study published in The Royal Society Open Science, humpback whales separated by nearly 13,000 kilometers were heard singing the same refrain. Enough to suggest that this species could be able to make itself heard on the other side of the planet.
Each population of whales communicates through songs that are unique to it. These songs allow them to learn but also to “discuss” their state of mind. At certain times, such as during times of reproduction, a group of whales can experience a “musical revolution”: the songs change as well as their intonations, but this remains quite exclusive to a group of whales.
However, underlines the study carried out by biologists and specialists in marine mammals, comparisons have shown that songs heard in 2018 in Ecuador were identical to others, recorded this time between 2016 and 2018 in French Polynesia. A surprise especially since these “musical themes” had already been spotted in 2011, this time on the Australian coast.
So many elements confirming that these songs are directional and therefore propagate towards the east. “This study demonstrates that songs first identified in Western populations can be transmitted throughout the South Pacific, supporting the potential for a circumpolar cultural transmission of song in the Southern Hemisphere and a vocal culture that does not is equal to ours”underline the researchers of the Royal Society.
Sea shanties that can go around the world
For the moment, scientists are not able to say if these songs can reach the Indian Ocean. If this were the case, the song could thus carry out a complete “revolution” and return to its starting point, on the Australian coasts. However, they point out, it is very likely that by dint of transmission, the initial song has evolved.
“Singing is a striking example of non-human cultural transmission and evolution. The study of humpback whale song culture not only draws parallels with characteristics of songbird song, but sheds light on the underlying mechanisms of social learning and cultural evolution in animals, ranging from fish to other cetacean species to humans” adds the study.
It remains to be seen how these whales meet to transmit these songs. The researchers’ most likely hypothesis is foraging. Whales are migratory animals and can travel 25,000 km per year. Depending on the season, a group of whales migrates from one area to another and it is at this time that different populations can transmit their songs to each other. This discovery could allow scientists to better understand the evolution of communication in cetaceans.
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