Similarities in composition and transformations of songs by humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) over time and space.

Publication Type:Journal Article
Year of Publication:2021
Authors:Mercado, Perazio
Journal:Journal of Comparative Psychology
Pagination:28 - 50
Date Published:Jan-02-2021

The complex songs produced by humpback whales have been cited as evidence of prodigious memory, innovativeness, sophisticated auditory scene analysis, vocal imitation, and even culture. Researchers believe humpbacks learn their songs culturally because songs appear to change rapidly, consistently, and irreversibly across whales within a population. Here, we present evidence of similarities in song structure both across populations and decades that strongly challenge claims that social learning is the main driver of variations in humpback whale songs over time. Groups of humpback whales that were not in acoustic contact (recorded in Puerto Rico in 1970, Hawaii in 2012, and Colombia in 2013–2019) produced songs in acoustically comparable cycles, suggesting that progression through sound patterns within and across songs is not simply determined by vocal imitation of innovative patterns, but may instead be controlled by production templates that prescribe how singers construct and transform songs over time. Identifying universal constraints on song production is critical to evaluating the role of vocal imitation and cultural transmission in the progressive changes that humpback whales make to their songs and for evaluating the functional relevance of such changes. The current findings illustrate how information theoretic analyses of vocal sequences can potentially obscure key acoustic qualities of signals that may be critical to understanding how vocalizers produce, perceive, and use those sequences.

Short Title:Journal of Comparative Psychology
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Scratchpads developed and conceived by (alphabetical): Ed Baker, Katherine Bouton Alice Heaton Dimitris Koureas, Laurence Livermore, Dave Roberts, Simon Rycroft, Ben Scott, Vince Smith