[MARMAM] New paper on song culture? in humpback whales

Mercado, Eduardo emiii at buffalo.edu
Thu Jan 21 07:02:22 PST 2021


For those readers interested in the inner workings of whale minds, I offer the following: 

Song Morphing by Humpback Whales: Cultural or Epiphenomenal?
by Eduardo Mercado III
Published online 15 January 2021
Frontiers in Psychology 11:574403 (2021);


Abstract: Singing humpback whales (Megaptera noavaengliae) collectively and progressively change the sounds and patterns they produce within their songs throughout their lives. The dynamic modifications that humpback whales make to their songs are often cited as an impressive example of cultural transmission through vocal learning in a non-human. Some elements of song change challenge this interpretation, however, including: (1) singers often incrementally and progressively morph phrases within and across songs as time passes, with trajectories of change being comparable across multiple time scales; (2) acoustically isolated subpopulations singing similar songs morph the acoustic properties of songs in similar ways; and (3) complex sound patterns, including phrases, themes, and whole songs, recur across years and populations. These properties of song dynamics suggest that singing humpback whales may be modulating song features in response to local conditions and genetic predispositions rather than socially learning novel sound patterns by copying other singers. Experimental and observational tests of key predictions of these alternative hypotheses are critical to identifying how and why singing humpback whales constantly change their songs.



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