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Mapping whale songs in the South Pacific

Why do male whales make such complex songs? And what are they communicating? Dr. Ellen Garland has been analyzing sound arrangements made by the tens of thousands of whales living in separate communities across the South Pacific region. Her goal: To map whale song.

When she color-coded the data and started to track it over time and location, a first, she discovered a fascinating pattern that emerged year after year: Humpback whales have cultural transmission, meaning they learn and pass information across different groups. Whalesong spreads like popular music. This PBS Nova clip, Whale Songs in the South Pacific, features her incredible discovery.

Related book recommendation: Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises: A Natural History and Species Guide.

Watch more about research in this field: The mysterious song of the Humpback Whale and Why (and how) do whales sing? Plus, watch more videos about maps and women working in STEM fields.

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