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Thursday, 30 November, 2000, 08:58 GMT
New tune for wooing whales
Humpback whale off Australia
Humpbacks are enjoying a rock 'n' roll revolution
A change of tune among whale mating songs in the Pacific Ocean has astounded marine scientists.


Female whales hear the same song over and over again and get bored

Report co-author Michael Noad
In the space of just two years, male humpback whales living off the east coast of Australia have abandoned their traditional mating calls for a new song introduced by visiting whales from the Indian Ocean.

Writing in the London-based journal Nature, the scientists say the abrupt switch by an estimated 3,000 whales in such a short period amounts to a revolution in the mammals' culture.

They believe the new song has proved a hit with female whales which had got bored with the old one.

New rock 'n' roll

The male whale sings to attract mates and on a good day his songs can be heard for up to 30 km away.

Humpback whale
The humpbacks proved fast learners
Michael Noad, one of the authors of the paper from Sydney University, said: "The theory is the novelty of the new song is what made it popular".

"Female whales hear the same song over and over again and get bored and disinterested in the males, so the males alter their songs slightly to stand out in the crowd," he said.

But Mr Noad said the extraordinary thing was the speed of the change.

"It was a revolution in their culture, rather than an evolution," he said.

The change of tune is said to be comparable to the arrival of rock'n'roll in popular culture, incorporating a low moan and big growl, instead of the previous higher pitched "woop, woop, woop".

Breeding

The scientists' conclusions emerged from more than 1,000 hours of recordings of the male whale sounds in the Great Barrier Reef off eastern Australia between 1995 and 1998.


In whale terms they are breeding like rabbits

Biologist Michael Noad
The humpbacks passed through the area twice a year, migrating to and from their breeding grounds.

But despite the evident allure of the new serenade, Mr Noad does not believe it will lead to an explosion of breeding among humpback whales.

They are already multiplying at a healthy rate of about 11% a year.

"In whale terms they are breeding like rabbits," he said.

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See also:

22 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
Whales change their tune
27 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
Right whales face extinction
06 Apr 00 | Sci/Tech
Mammal cam reveals diving secrets
11 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
Whaling ban set to end
07 Jun 98 | Sci/Tech
Noise threat to whales
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