A ten-year study in the western Pacific has documented the ways that new humpback whale songs move through several distinct populations over the course of a breeding season. “Our findings reveal cultural change on a vast scale,” said Ellen Garland, a graduate student at The University of Queensland. Multiple songs moved like “cultural ripples from one population to another, causing all males to change their song to a new version.” This is the first time that such broad-scale and population-wide cultural exchange has been documented in any species other than humans, she added. (Ed. note: researchers have also suggested that cultural patterns are passed among sperm whale populations)
Once a new song emerges, all the males seem to rapidly change their tune. Those songs generally rise to the “top of the chart” in the course of one breeding season and typically take over by the end of it. “We think this male quest for song novelty is in the hope of being that little bit different and perhaps more attractive to the opposite sex,” she said. “This is then countered by the urge to sing the same tune, by the need to conform.”
Related story: Acoustic recorders reveal new humpback breeding areas in central Pacific.