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      Song hybridization events during revolutionary song change provide insights into cultural transmission in humpback whales

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          Bird Song

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            Songs of humpback whales.

            1) Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) produce a series of beautiful and varied sounds for a period of 7 to 30 minutes and then repeat the same series with considerable precision. We call such a performance "singing" and each repeated series of sounds a "song." 2) All prolonged sound patterns (recorded so far) of this species are in song form, and each individual adheres to its own song type. 3) There seem to be several song types around which whales construct their songs, but individual variations are pronounced (there is only a very rough species-specific song pattern). 4) Songs are repeated without any obvious pause between them; thus song sessions may continue for several hours. 5) The sequence of themes in successive songs by the same individual is the same. Although the number of phrases per theme varies, no theme is ever completely omitted in our sample. 6) Loud sounds in the ocean, for example dynamite blasts, do not seem to affect the whale's songs. 7) The sex of the performer of any of the songs we have studied is unknown. 8) The function of the songs is unknown.
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              Culture in whales and dolphins.

              Studies of animal culture have not normally included a consideration of cetaceans. However, with several long-term field studies now maturing, this situation should change. Animal culture is generally studied by either investigating transmission mechanisms experimentally, or observing patterns of behavioural variation in wild populations that cannot be explained by either genetic or environmental factors. Taking this second, ethnographic, approach, there is good evidence for cultural transmission in several cetacean species. However, only the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops) has been shown experimentally to possess sophisticated social learning abilities, including vocal and motor imitation; other species have not been studied. There is observational evidence for imitation and teaching in killer whales. For cetaceans and other large, wide-ranging animals, excessive reliance on experimental data for evidence of culture is not productive; we favour the ethnographic approach. The complex and stable vocal and behavioural cultures of sympatric groups of killer whales (Orcinus orca) appear to have no parallel outside humans, and represent an independent evolution of cultural faculties. The wide movements of cetaceans, the greater variability of the marine environment over large temporal scales relative to that on land, and the stable matrilineal social groups of some species are potentially important factors in the evolution of cetacean culture. There have been suggestions of gene-culture coevolution in cetaceans, and culture may be implicated in some unusual behavioural and life-history traits of whales and dolphins. We hope to stimulate discussion and research on culture in these animals.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
                Proc Natl Acad Sci USA
                Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
                0027-8424
                1091-6490
                July 25 2017
                July 25 2017
                : 114
                : 30
                : 7822-7829
                Article
                10.1073/pnas.1621072114
                © 2017

                http://www.pnas.org/site/misc/userlicense.xhtml

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