Courtship behaviors common in the animal kingdom, such as the display of a peacock’s luxurious tail or the melody of a songbird tune, are relatively constant and rely on high levels of repetition. Until recently, scientists believed that the songs of humpback whales were also used in courtship rituals, in order to attract mates.
However, a new study led by Eduardo Mercado III, professor of psychology at the Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences, argues that the constantly varying acoustic qualities of their songs are largely counterproductive to courtship display, and they can in fact be used as echolocation devices, thus finding rather than attracting other whales.
“My original intention to describe how individual whales vary their songs was motivated in part because the breeding hypothesis suggests that singers should be as elaborate as possible, as doing less would not be appealing to potential mates,” said Mercado. “But I was struck by the variety of songs looking at the stats. Things weren’t uniform.
“The dynamic changes that individual whales make to songs during song sessions are counterproductive if the songs are primarily used to provide peers with indications of a singer’s fitness.”
While courtship displays and mating rituals can be compared to eye-catching but very repetitive commercials appearing on television, the songs of the humpback whales are more like jazz improvisation in terms of diversity and unpredictability.
By recording and studying the songs of humpback whales off the coast of Hawaii, Mercado realized that while reproduction may play a potential role in whale behavior, the complex mechanisms of song may be better. compared to the pipe at work in the eyes of land animals when they examine their surroundings.
“Analyzes of variations in the time the singers spent producing the four themes suggest that the mechanisms that determine when singers transition between themes may be comparable to those that control when land animals move their eyes to. focus on different positions when examining visual scenes, ”Mercado explained.
Humpback whales produce both narrow-band (e.g. sung vowels) and wide-band (e.g. a click of the tongue against the palate) sequences, as each type of signal offers specific echolocation benefits. .
“Neither of these distinctions are important in terms of the breeding hypothesis because they fail to predict why a whale should use either,” he says. “But for the sonar hypothesis, this is significant because the acoustic information returned to the sender from the clicks is very different from the information obtained from the vowels.”
The study is published in the journal Learning and behavior.
Through Andrei Ionescu, Terre.com Editor-in-chief