Humpback Whales Learn Songs From Others

Medscape Staff

July 07, 2022

Humpback whales can learn complex songs from other humpback whale populations in a rare cross-cultural exchange, according to researchers at the University of Queensland's School of Veterinary Science.

What to know:

  • A study of song patterns of male humpback whales transmitted from the east Australian to New Caledonian populations between 2009 and 2015 found that songs are being learned from one another.

  • Each year of the study, the whales were observed singing a different song, indicating that humpback whales can learn an entire song pattern from another population very quickly, even if it's complex or difficult.

  • The complexity of the songs was determined by measuring the number of sounds the whales made and the length of the sound patterns. It was found they learned the exact sounds and did not simplify or leave anything out.

  • It's unclear where the cross-cultural learning takes place, but it is believed the whales learn from one another while on their shared migration routes or in their shared feeding grounds.

  • It's rare for this degree of cultural exchange to be documented on such a large scale in a nonhuman species, and the humpback whale findings could help in understanding the evolution of cultural communication in animals and humans.

This is a summary of the article, "Song Complexity Is Maintained During Inter-population Cultural Transmission of Humpback Whale Songs," published by Scientific Reports on May 30, 2022. The full article can be found on

For more news, follow Medscape on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.