Researchers Find the Tin Pan Alley of the Whale World

whales in water photo
Photo: mikebaird / cc

Whales sing their haunting melodies across miles of ocean in order to attract a mate -- but as it turns out, those songs aren't quite as original as you might have thought. According to researchers studying whale culture, evidence suggests that humpbacks are not above taking someone else's tune and passing it off as their own, until everybody is singing just about the same thing. In fact, biologists believe they have discovered the 'tin pan alley' of the aquatic music scene -- and there may be a single, musically-inclined whale serving as the undersea King of Pop.Researchers say that, each year around breeding time, male humpback whales start singing roughly the same tune -- and they've traced back the original melody to a spot off the eastern coast of Australia. For just about a decade, this region, and perhaps a single individual crooner in the waters there, has produced the tunes that take the whale world by storm.

According to a report from the AFP

The hit-making tune then ripples eastward across the South Pacific Ocean, from Australia to French Polynesia, infecting genetically distinct groups of whales who all start singing the same song during breeding season.

In typical pop music fashion, the tunes are not all that original most of the time, said researcher Ellen Garland, a graduate student at The University of Queensland.

"It would be like splicing an old Beatles song with U2," Garland said. "Occasionally they completely throw the current song out the window and start singing a brand new song."

The study is one of the longest of its kind, aiming to document the "dynamic" whale culture on a global scale, the results of which will be printed in the journal Current Biology. These finding highlight the interconnectedness of marine habitats despite the great distances they cover, proving yet again the fragility of an ecosystem as vast and unmovable as the world's oceans.

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