Brief Communications

Nature 408, 537 (30 November 2000) | doi:10.1038/35046199

Cultural revolution in whale songs

Michael J. Noad1, Douglas H. Cato1,2, M. M. Bryden1, Micheline -N. Jenner3 & K. Curt S. Jenner3

The song patterns of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) depend on where they live, with populations inhabiting different ocean basins normally singing quite distinct songs. Here we record a unique and radical song change in the song of humpback whales in the Pacific Ocean off the Australian east coast. Their song was replaced rapidly and completely by the song of the Australian west coast population from the Indian Ocean, apparently as a result of the introduction of only a small number of 'foreign' singers. Such a revolutionary change is unprecedented in animal cultural vocal traditions and suggests that novelty may stimulate change in humpback whale songs.

  1. Department of Veterinary Anatomy and Pathology, University of Sydney, New South Wales 2006, Australia
  2. Defence Science and Technology Organisation , Pyrmont, New South Wales 2009, Australia
  3. Centre for Whale Research, PO Box 1622, Fremantle, Western Australia 6959, Australia

Correspondence to: Michael J. Noad1 e-mail: Email: mnoad@mail.usyd.edu.au