In 2006, I spent a few months within the Islands of Hawaii studying Humpback Whales. The Humpback Whale is an incredible creature, up to 50 feet in length and weighing up to 36 000 kg. Whales are one of the only other mammals other than humans that sing, and that’s one of the reasons why it’s so interesting.
I was working under supervision by field pioneer, Dr. Adam Pack of the University of Hawaii. The other interns were focused mainly on migratory patterns between Humpback Whales. This population of whales has travelled around the world, and so it was important to keep tabs on them as unobtrusively as possible in order to aid in their preservation. Worldwide efforts have been working and whale populations are beginning to rise again, but they are still just barely off of the endangered species list.
I focused my efforts in biology under the supervision of world renown Dr. Adam Chippindale at Queen’s University. It’s obvious that sexual selection plays a role in nightclubs, however, studying animal models in the wild actually held a striking resemblance to selection within a nightclub. I’ll be discussing this more throughout my other posts, but for now I want to talk about whale song.
One of the mysteries of the Humpback Whale species is that of their singing, its purpose and its evolutionary context. Both males and females sing, but it is the male song which the species is famous for. Females provide the most investment towards offspring, and as a result we consider them to be the “choosier” sex. It is speculated that whale song plays a role in sexual selection by influencing mate selection in the form of a mating call, or establishing male dominance. These may be intertwined, for example, the song asserts male dominance and the females want to mate with the most dominant male. Present day, the purpose of the Humpback Whale song is still unknown.
All the whales within a certain population sing the same song, which changes slowly over a period of years, and without repeating. Music has the power to break down physical boundaries – it’s not too far-fetched that we haven’t found a purpose because there is no purpose other than pleasure. Perhaps they enjoy singing because it keeps them occupied during their long migrations?
Whale song has similar phrase and structure to human music; in other words, it is organized noise. Dr. Pack has broken these down into themes, I’ve listed a few below to listen to.