Articles

Songs of Humpback Whales

Science  13 Aug 1971:
Vol. 173, Issue 3997, pp. 585-597
DOI: 10.1126/science.173.3997.585

Abstract

1) Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) produce a series of beautiful and varied sounds for a period of 7 to 30 minutes and then repeat the same series with considerable precision. We call such a performance "singing" and each repeated series of sounds a "song."

2) All prolonged sound patterns (recorded so far) of this species are in song form, and each individual adheres to its own song type.

3) There seem to be several song types around which whales construct their songs, but individual variations are pronounced (there is only a very rough species-specific song pattern).

4) Songs are repeated without any obvious pause between them; thus song sessions may continue for several hours.

5) The sequence of themes in successive songs by the same individual is the same. Although the number of phrases per theme varies, no theme is ever completely omitted in our sample.

6) Loud sounds in the ocean, for example dynamite blasts, do not seem to affect the whale's songs.

7) The sex of the performer of any of the songs we have studied is unknown.

8) The function of the songs is unknown.