Blog/20130421 Whale song

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Attenborough's The Life of Mammals (ep. 7): Return to the Water, has some whale song set to classical music around 43 min in.

So how complex is humpback whale song?

  • has some diagrams showing the structure of humpback whale song. "Each individual distinguishable part of sound is called a unit (analogous to a note in human music). The units make up subphrases, which are repeated in phrases, which are repeated in themes. Multiple themes make up a song, which itself can be repeated multiple times in a song session."
  • "Although the result was not perfect, it still constitutes an indication of the existence of grammar within the songs of the humpback whale." (and refs therein)
  • "Specifically, this analysis demonstrates that: (1) There is a strong structural constraint, or syntax, in the generation of the songs, and (2) the structural constraints exhibit periodicities with periods of 6-8 and 180-400 units. This implies that no empirical Markov model is capable of representing the songs' structure. The results are robust to the choice of either human or automated song-to-symbol classifiers. In addition, the entropy estimates indicate that the maximum amount of information that could be communicated by the sequence of sounds made is less than 1 bit per second."

Some examples for humpback whale songs here:

The end of the BBC programme (51 min onwards) talks about identifying and tracking blue whales using hydrophones, and in particular through the US Navy's hydrophones used to track submarines (available to research since 1993), enabling scientists to track an individual blue whale across an entire ocean basin just on the basis on their songs. (Now this tracking is done by satellite).

2013-04-21 | Leave a comment | Back to blog