Most of the time, songs contain some material from the previous year blended with something new. "It would be like splicing an old Beatles song with U2," Garland said. "Occasionally they completely throw the current song out the window and start singing a brand new song."
Once a new song emerges, all the males seem to rapidly change their tune. Those songs generally rise to the "top of the chart" in the course of one breeding season and typically take over by the end of it.
Garland said it is not yet known why the humpbacks' songs spread in this way. In fact, why whales sing in the first place isn't fully known. Song is likely a mating display, but it is unclear whether the main effect is to attract females or to repel rival males.
Still, Garland suspects that the whales may want to stand out like a new pop song. "We think this male quest for song novelty is in the hope of being that little bit different and perhaps more attractive to the opposite sex," she said. "This is then countered by the urge to sing the same tune, by the need to conform."
|Contact: Elisabeth Lyons|