Humpback Whale Research

Listen to one of our whale recordings:

In 1967, Dr. Roger Payne and Scott McVay studied the intricate vocalizations of humpback whales. They realized that they were hearing fixed rhythmic patterns of repeated sounds or songs. Although many other whale species also sing songs and make a variety of noises, the humpback has the longest and most complex songs and it is the song first recognized as such.Ocean Alliance

Since this discovery, Dr Payne and colleagues at Ocean Alliance have gathered songs from humpback populations throughout the world. Ocean Alliance’s Whale Song Library now contains more than 1,500 recordings from fourteen different geographic regions. The library totals more than 6,000 hours of sounds and is the largest collection of humpback recordings.

Katharine Payne discovered that all the humpback whales in a given area sing versions of the same song, which changes throughout the course of the season. Following this, Ocean Alliance scientists discovered that although humpback whales in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans follow the same rules to construct their songs, that the changes in the songs for each ocean have occurred independently of changes in other oceans (presumably singers in different oceans cannot hear each other); so that in the same year, the songs in different oceans are different from each other.

It seems, therefore, that songs can be helpful in delineating interbreeding populations of humpback whales. Ocean Alliance maintains libraries of information spanning back to the 1950s.