Science and Creativity: Do Animals Have Culture? Part II | WBEZ
Skip to main content

Studio 360 with Kurt Andersen

Science and Creativity: Do Animals Have Culture? Part II

Biologist Roger Payne discovered whale song when he started studying a mysterious recording in 1966. The recording came from a sound designer doing military research, Frank Watlington, who was trying to record undersea dynamite explosions.Payne became obsessed with the recording, and made a startling discovery: the sounds were repeating. That means that they were scientifically classified as songs. Over the following years, Payne pressed the recordings on musicians, composers, and singers, including Judy Collins.
In 1970, Collins used the recordings on her album Whales and Nightingales, which went gold and introduced millions to whale song. Collins devoted the royalties of those songs to Payne’s conservation work.  Just as Payne hoped, these strange, evocative sounds inspired the growing Save the Whales movement, and by 1972 the US had banned whaling and whale products. Plus, “seasons” of whale songs. Researchers looking at how the songs of whales change over time have learned that a new song can catch on and spread across populations of thousands whales in a matter of months, in much the same way that a hit song spreads across a country. Biologist Ellen Garland joins us in the studio to tell us more about that. 

Learn more about your ad choices. Visit

Get the WBEZ App

Download the best live and on-demand public radio experience. Find out more.