Subject: Re: song of the humback *request for info*

Steve Frohock (
Fri, 25 Oct 1996 19:02:14 -0700

Klein, Paula wrote:
> October 20, 1996
> To: Steve Frohock
> My name is Todd Willett and I am a music composition student at San
> Diego State University.  I am currently researching songs of the
> Humpback Whale for a compositional project.  Would you or perhaps
> someone there be able to assist me in some detailed questions on this
> subject?
> Specifically some of the questions I need answered have to do with song
> structure, use of themes and their development within a song, and
> specific sounds the Humpbacks use and their variations of those sounds.
> These are important components I need to know for my composition which
> will be an electronic representation of three or four whales singing
> together; kind of a Whale Quartet.
> Also, what would actually assist me greatly are recorded examples of
> specific sounds.  One of the books I'm using for reference is Wings In
> The Sea: The Humpback Whales by Lois King Winn (1985).  In her chapter
> "The Singing Whale," she lists several descriptive names for individual
> sounds such as moans, cries, chirps yups oos, ees, wos, and so on. Are
> these standardized names for these sounds or are these just words that
> she temporarily coined?
> Any help or references you could give me or would be greatly
> appreciated.  As I have questions that are involved I would appreciate
> that you call me collect so that we could converse. Thank you for your
> time.
> Thank You,
> Todd Willett
> Please call collect (619) 445-4657
> I can be reached by email at:

Dear Todd, 
I am not a musician nor an expert on whale vocalization but I hope I can 
steer you in the right direction. You're correct that humpbacks use a 
wide variety of sounds in their songs. The songs are comprised of phrases 
and themes that change throughout the population from year to year. We 
know that the songs are only sung by males and are mating related. After 
that we're unsure exactly how they function. There are a number of 
theories and you can refer to articles by Jim Darling, Debbie 
Glockner-Ferrai and Roger Payne (among others) for further info. 

A good place to start is "Communication and Behavior of Whales" edited by 
Roger Payne (AAAS Selected Symposia Series, 1983). Dr. Payne was the 
first to describe and analyze humpback songs. He also has tapes available 
to introduce you to the actual sounds. You can reach him at Whale 
Conservation Institute (617) 259-0423 and hopefully he can answer your 
detailed questions much better than I.

Steve Frohock