Like folk songs in 19th and 20th centuries, memes in the 21st and TikTok remixes, humpback whale tunes evolve as they’re passed from pod to pod across the ocean.
But now scientists have worked out who the creative geniuses of the whale world are – Australians.
A new study has found humpback whale songs heard as far away as Ecuador can be traced back to the west Australian home of psych rockers Tame Impala.
Humpback whale songs, which like Tame Impala jams can go on a while, are made up of ‘units’ of vocalisations arranged in strings called ‘phrases’, further built into ‘themes’ which, sung in the right order, create a song.
In the study, published Wednesday in the journal Royal Society Open Science, researchers said they recorded songs sung by humpback whales in Ecuador in 2018 which they’d heard before – two years earlier in French Polynesia and Tonga, thousands of kilometres to the west.
But their songs are clearly evolutions of new tunes Aussie humpback whale pods are bashing out a couple of years before that, called ‘revolutions’ (as opposed to ‘evolutions’, which are basically remixes of existing songs).
“Humpback whale song revolutions continue to spread in a unidirectional pattern eastward from eastern Australia across to French Polynesia,” they wrote. “Once a song revolution took hold, it continued to spread in a single direction.”
Most seem to originate in western Australia, they said, because that’s where a large concentration of humpbacks hang out.
Occasionally, the American humpback whales seem to come up with songs of their own – but only after periods of isolation from their Pacific cousins.
Eventually, the Aussies might get to hear their own songs sung back at them – the scientists suggesting the tunes keep spreading eastwards until they circumnavigate the globe.
“As with humans, the patterns of migration are written into the songs of humpback whales.”