Humpback melody recollection

From: Orca Network (howard@orcanetwork.org)
Date: Sun Jan 05 2003 - 17:37:54 EST

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    Aloha --
    I'm a boat captain and naturalist working on humpback whale watch tours off
    the Big Island of Hawaii. I just read that researchers at Dartmouth have
    identified the rostromedial prefrontal cortex as the part of the brain humans
    use to recall melody. I'm curious if humpbacks have a proportionally larger
    or more complex rostromedial prefrontal cortex than whales that don't sing.
    And if that is the case, do male humpbacks have more complex rostromedial
    prefrontal cortexes than females?
    Thanks,
    Captain Claire

    Dear Captain Claire,

    That's a very technical question a bit beyond my area, so I consulted Dr.
    Richard Osborne of the Whale Museum (osborne@whalemuseum.org) and here's
    his answer:

    We do not have that kind of information about whale brains - magnetic
    resonance imaging of living whales has some serious logistical problems
    that will need to be overcome first (i.e. behaviorally testing a whale's
    memory of tunes while its in an MRI scanner). However, based on
    neuroanatomy of dead whales it is reasonable to assume they have cortical
    melody memory areas, and it could be in the prefrontal cortex. Sex
    differences in humpbacks are not out of the question in terms of size of
    that area as well, since "use" of neocortex is directly related to how much
    cortex becomes devoted to certain tasks. ... So the proposed sexual
    difference in size of cortex devoted to it would not necessarily be
    genetic, but more-likely the result of cultural influences that dictate
    males sing the songs and females only listen.

    --rich.

    Howard Garrett
    Orca Network
    Greenbank WA
    (360) 678-3451
    www.orcanetwork.org
    howard@orcanetwork.org



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