Why do male whales sing?
Scientists don’t really know, but these are the main hypotheses :
- It has been observed that sometimes, when a lone singing whale is approached by another male, the singer one will stop singing and both will ‘have a conversation’ using different sounds. As a result, it is thought that whale songs could serve to order male social status. It is remarkable that within one whale population all male humpbacks sing the same song!
- The sounds resonate through the sea and can be heard by other whales thousands of kilometers away, providing the location of the singer. As a result, they could be a natural GPS to other migratory whales.
- The songs could be responsible of the regulation of female oestrous and also a ‘sonar’ to help males find females.
This 82-year-old man in the photograph is Dr. Roger Payne, an American biologist and environmentalist. If you read his biography, you will find out that he started studing bats and owls, but he focused later in whale conservation.
Together with researcher Scott McVay, in 1967 he discovered the complex sounds of the male humpback whales during the breeding season and he was the first to record them.
In 1970 he released some of these recordings in a LP called ‘Songs of the Humpback Whale’ (still the best-selling nature sound record of all time.. you can hear it bellow!) which helped the ‘Save the Whales’ movement seeking to end commercial whaling.
One year later, he founded the Ocean Alliance destined to whale and ocean conservation. Furthermore, eight years later, Rayne recorded some commentaries in whale recordings on a disc inside the National Geographic magazine… 10.5 million copies were sold!
The fact that many people listened to these moving and relaxing songs contributed to raise awareness and get down to work to prevent its imminent extinction. This is a good example of how music records can really change the world!