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Whales Have Their Top 40 Song Hits

Love songs get picked up by other groups

Humpback whale photo by NOAA

When a humpback whale sings a new love song, other whales are listening. If they like the song, they add it to their own repertories. And any given song may become a hit as it gets passed along – all across the Pacific Ocean.

That’s the conclusion from a new study, published today in Current Biology. Scientists tracked several separate groups of humpbacks over 10 years, recording different song types. They found that each year, the songs were spreading from one group to another, moving east from Australia to East Polynesia.

In each group, the singers were mostly male, and they were quick to pick up new songs they were hearing from neighboring groups a few miles away.

Why are whales so interested in learning new songs from each other? Probably for exactly the same reasons that humans like to learn new songs.

“If you change your song, you stand out,” said Ellen C. Garland, a graduate student at the University of Queensland and the lead author of the study. “We could speculate that that could be more attractive to the females.”

She added that male humpbacks are enthusiastic singers. “When the new song types come in, it’s a chance for them to really go for it.”

What do you say? Are you surprised that whales sing to each other and that they have their own “hit parades”? Let us know in a comment below or on Facebook.