Why whales sing and talk?

From: Orca Network (howard@orcanetwork.org)
Date: Tue Jan 14 2003 - 23:14:37 EST

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    Hello,

    We´re two girls from Germany and have to do some homework we can´t solve.
    Why whales sing? , How they talk to each other? - These are the questions.
    We really hope you can help us!
    Yours sincerely,

    Katrin & Krystina

    These are very broad questions. It's been over thirty years since humpback
    whale songs were first discovered and described for science, and to this
    day there is no firm understanding of exactly why they sing. One can answer
    that question in terms of specific biological needs, such as to attract a
    mate, and indeed the songs are sung primarily in the mating and birthing
    season, so the songs probably play some role in determining who will mate
    with whom. Very recently the scientific community has begun to entertain
    the notion that at least some whale species, including humpbacks, learn
    from one another and behave according to cultural norms, not just out of
    biological impulses. In that case singing is probably done for complex
    cultural reasons, not just for simple biological needs, and until
    scientists begin to describe specific whale cultures, the answer to your
    question will remain far beyond the scope of scientific inquiry.

    Your other question, How do they talk to each other?, could apply to almost
    any cetacean species, and would be answered differently depending on the
    species. I'm not sure if you are asking about the physical mechanism used
    in producing the sounds they make to each other, or if you are asking if it
    is true that they do talk to each other. Again, recent reviews of field
    studies as well as experiments on captive dolphins have suggested that
    several species, including, but not limited to, sperm whales, humpbacks,
    orcas, both kinds of pilot whales, and bottlenose dolphins, communicate
    with one another using intricate, culturally determined vocal systems. In
    other words, they talk to each other. Descriptions of the physical
    properties of those vocalizations can and do fill volumes, but left unknown
    is the content of the information shared or the role communication plays in
    the daily lives of the animals. There is much to be learned.

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



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