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Whales Pass Songs to Other Whale Populations, Probably Get Earworms

it's time to play the music

New research from the University of Queensland in Australia has found that when a male humpback whale begins mating season by singing, that particular song might be an original or it might be something that’s been stuck in his head for a while. A lot of these whale songs have been spread across a 4,000-mile radius and become a whale community’s “Top 40 hits.” Which might lead everyone to wonder: Are there famous whale pop stars? Is there a whale version of American Idol? What does the whale equivalent of Justin Bieber sound like?

This dissemination of songs throughout an animal population has been observed among birds, primates, and cetaceans (aquatic mammals, like whales and dolphins). But this phenomena, called cultural transmission, hadn’t been seen on this large of a scale until now: the songs from one whale population are being heard in other whale populations.

Male humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) have a highly stereotyped, repetitive, and progressively evolving vocal sexual display or “song” that functions in sexual selection (through mate attraction and/or male social sorting). All males within a population conform to the current version of the display (song type), and similarities may exist among the songs of populations within an ocean basin. Here we present a striking pattern of horizontal transmission: multiple song types spread rapidly and repeatedly in a unidirectional manner, like cultural ripples, eastward through the populations in the western and central South Pacific over an 11-year period. This is the first documentation of a repeated, dynamic cultural change occurring across multiple populations at such a large geographic scale.

So, there are whale versions of Bruno Mars or Al Green out there, and a bunch of other whales are now performing karaoke and making mashups with their songs to try and attract lady whales. Typical. Next thing you know, there’s going to be a whale-run Ark Music Factory producing horrible, terrible songs that will just get stuck in all their heads and cripple the entire whale music industry. But maybe there’s an audience for that too.

(Cell via Discoblog)

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