ANIMAL BEHAVIOR

How whales change their tune

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Science  25 Aug 2017:
Vol. 357, Issue 6353, pp. 769-770
DOI: 10.1126/science.357.6353.769-c

Humpback whales can rapidly change their songs.

PHOTO: DAVE FLEETHAM/GETTY IMAGES

The beautiful songs of male humpback whales are composed of a sequence of sounds that is repeated to form a theme, and themes are sung in a particular order to form the song. Whale songs sometimes change rapidly, with males in one population quickly adopting the song type of another. To understand how learning of a new song takes place, Garland et al. studied two rapid changes during which four clear recordings of the rare transitional stage between old and new songs were made. The males learned the new songs by joining new and old themes, sometimes creating a hybrid theme. This learning had aspects in common with that observed in certain songbirds and even humans.

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 10.1073/pnas.1621072114 (2017).

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