The Song of the Humpback Whales

In the late 1960s, whale biologist Roger Payne and several colleagues did something a little unusual, and it paid off with spectacular results. The researchers dumped a microphone into the sea, hoping to listen in on the underwater conversations that Payne believed whales were having. But "some people weren't sure we were going to hear anything -- they said it was just a waste of time," Payne recalled to a journalist at the time. Video Clip It worked better than anyone had imagined, however, capturing a remarkable array of creaks, groans, and moans produced by humpback and other whales. Recordings of the whale songs were soon selling out at music stores, and people around the world were debating the meaning of the haunting melodies. The discovery earned the humpback a new nickname: "Songster of the Sea." Today, scientists know more than ever about the song of the humpback. They know, for instance, that while both male and female humpbacks can produce sounds, only the males appear to produce organized songs with distinct themes and melodies, almost always on breeding grounds. As NATURE's HUMPBACK WHALES shows, the males often sing while suspended deep below the surface, their long front flippers jutting rigidly from their sides. The songs can last up to 20 minutes, and can be heard more than 20 miles away. The male may repeat the same song dozens of times over several hours, and whales in the same geographic area sing in very similar "dialects." Song patterns can change gradually over time, so that new songs emerge every few years.

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[Listen to the Singing Whales]

Curious Tip: Musical Instruments Classification

The motive of the instrumental classification is the vibrant matter of the instrument:

Aerophones - Music instruments which produce sound by a vibrating mass of air. This is more commonly known as wind instruments.

Membranophones - Musical instruments that have vibrating stretched membranes or skin that produce sound.

Idiophones - Musical instruments in which a vibrating solid material is used to produce sound. Examples of solid materials used in such instruments are stone, wood and metal.

Chordophones - Music instruments that produce sound by means of a stretched vibrating string. When a string vibrates, the resonator picks up that vibration and amplifies it giving it a more appealing sound.

Electrophones - Refers to music instruments that produce sound electronically or produce its initial sound traditionally and then amplified electronically.

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