The latest fashion in bowhead whale songs

Posted: 12/16/2011 in all marine news

Carter Esch –

Whales, it turns out, are dedicated followers of fashion.

There’s a style to the song they sing to attract mates, and that style shifts.

To keep up with their very latest crazes, you need an underwater microphone and a discerning ear.

In the world of fashion, no season arrives without some innovative designer presenting a new concept of what is attractive (think leg warmers, patent leather pants, purple shearling boots); by the end of the season, it may have become a short-lived trend that sweeps the population.

But at the same time, some attire hangs around from season to season (think little black dress, crisp white shirt, and a great pair of jeans).

Whale song appears to work in a similar way. Some styles come and go as quickly as hot pants and jelly shoes.

Others, like trench coats and corduroys, catch on and become integrated into the collective wardrobe, and still others may endure and span eras, as timeless as a tuxedo.

For whales, song is just a hierarchy of individual calls that they produce and repeat in a particular order for tens of minutes to hours.

All whales generally sing the same song in any given season. But the song changes throughout the season and is never identical from year to year.

We don’t know which whales introduce changes to the song, but we do know that the other singers adopt these changes and end up singing the same tune.

Yet not every element in the song is always altered—in fact, some song features may be included consistently across years. Sound familiar ?

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