Humpback whales share songs over lunch

Whales learn new tunes at shared Antarctic feeding grounds.

Male humpback whales are known for their complex breeding croons. Their elaborate compositions of moans, shrieks, purrs and whoops rival in complexity those of even the most melodious songbirds.

Within a population of humpbacks, all males sing the same popular song, younger males learning the tune from listening to older troubadours. Humpbacks also like to mix it up a bit, adding and modifying notes and phrases so that a population’s song is constantly evolving.

Whales that are geographically isolated from each other usually have distinct songs. Humpbacks in the Atlantic Ocean, for example, sing a very different tune to those that make their home in the Indian Ocean. Populations in closer proximity often have more similar songs, indicating that whales take some of their musical inspiration from the songs sung by neighboring populations.

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