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Migratory Convergence Facilitates Cultural Transmission of Humpback Whale Song

September 4, 2019

Cultural transmission of behaviour is important in a wide variety of vertebrate taxa from birds to humans. Vocal traditions and vocal learning provide a strong foundation for studying culture and its transmission in both humans and cetaceans. Male humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) perform complex, culturally transmitted song displays that can change both evolutionarily (through accumulations of small changes) or revolutionarily (where a population rapidly adopts a novel song). The degree of coordination and conformity underlying song revolutions makes their study of particular interest. Acoustic contact on migratory routes may provide a mechanism for cultural revolutions of song, yet these areas of contact remain uncertain. Here, we compared songs recorded from the Kermadec Islands, a recently discovered migratory stopover, to multiple South Pacific wintering grounds. Similarities in song themes from the Kermadec Islands and multiple wintering locations (from New Caledonia across to the Cook Islands) suggest a location allowing cultural transmission of song eastward across the South Pacific, active song learning (hybrid songs) and the potential for cultural convergence after acoustic isolation at the wintering grounds. As with the correlations in humans between genes, communication and migration, the migration patterns of humpback whales are written into their songs.

The Kermadecs – Fact Sheet

November 11, 2014

To have the entire 620,000 square kilometers of the Kermadec region protected. A Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary will be the single biggest marine reserve in the world, a fitting declaration for what National Geographic calls "one of the last pristine sites in our oceans."

A Line in the Ocean: Future Directions and Priorities for Kermadecs Science

November 1, 2014

The aim of this document is to stimulate interest in scientific research in the Kermadecs marine environment. It is also intended to inform discussion and debate – among the wider scientific community, science investors, decision makers and the general public – about the future of science in this remarkable natural laboratory. It presents some immediate directions and priorities for a more integrated approach to scientific research in the Kermadecs and is a first step towards a strategic approach to Kermadecs science. Research themes and questions in this document have been drafted by the Pew Environment Group, in consultation with scientists conducting research on key aspects of the Kermadec marine environment.