Save the whales with music

As you discovered in the composer’s cat’s post, I love animals. Surfing the web, I found a breathtaking video about orchestral musicians bringing whales to surface. There you can see a orchestra plaing a very beautiful song, which is based on the sounds of the humpback whales, transmitted into the ocean by undersea speakers. Finally, a humpback whale approaches the orchestra…

Later on, I realise that this was an advertisement of an Australian telecommunication company; however, the music is wonderful so please watch the video bellow! After knowing that the whale in the video was computer-generated, I started a research about real whale music and their impact in society. I found out that Dr. Roger Payne recorded a LP in 1970, which 16 years later made possible the banning of commercial whaling… so I decided to share it with you. Are you ready?

How is the song of a whale?

According to this article only male whales sing, specially the humpback and the blue ones. They don’t have vocal chords, so they recycle air around their bodies, performing resonances.

They produce a series of repetitive sounds at different frequencies, which are thought to be “probably the most complex sounds in the animal kingdom”.

A single humpback whale can be singing up to 30 minutes, so, during migration, they can travel hundreds of kilometers with the same song. If you are curious, in the bottom of this Wikipedia page, you can listen to real recordings of whale songs.

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.

Roger Payne

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.

LumaSuite-How a song saved the whales

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!