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Episode 1: Humpback Whale Song of the Summer

National Geographic Society
National Geographic Partners
National Geographic Explorer
Humpback Hit Factory
the University of St. Andrews
Pineapple Street Media
National Geographic Magazine

Brian Skerry
Gangnam Style
I’m Vaughn Wallace
Nat Geo
Simon Cowell
Ellen Garland
Ellen’s gonna
George Harrison
Ravi Shankar’s
Kristen Clark
Emily Ochsenschlager
Brian Gutierrez
Robin Miniter
Jacob Pinter
Casey Miner
Hansdale Hsu
Nick Anderson
Grahame Davies
Devin Ocampo
Greta Weber
Shane Gero
Jim Darling
Susan Goldberg

West Australian
East Australian

the South Pacific


West Australia

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It's surreal.[music starts]WALLACE: Brian’s always been fascinated by humpback song--but recently… he learned something about these songs that made him think of them very differently.SKERRY: It's like no way that that can't be happening.I started to hear this sort of you know description of it being the American Idol of the ocean.WALLACE: A humpback song isn’t just one single animal’s soulful sound. It’s part of a pop music phenomenon: the whale world’s equivalent of Gangnam Style or the Macarena.WALLACE (from interview): Does it work like humans like when we hear an addictive song?SKERRY: I mean I would love to think so right. [music ends]WALLACE: So… what exactly makes a whale song catchy?I knew that to get to the bottom of this I needed to talk to a whale music mogul--a Simon Cowell of the sea.ELLEN GARLAND (HUMPBACKWHALE RESEARCHER): I'm Dr. Ellen Garland and I'm at the University of St. Andrews. It's all about sound.WALLACE: All humpback whales use sound to communicate, but it’s just the males who do those big song performances that Brian Skerry was describing. Please come and mate with me or whether they're singing to other males saying you know I'm big I'm strong and I'm gonna outcompete you.WALLACE: Whatever’s going on here, it is super important to these whales--and it’s a lot more complex and interesting than your typical animal mating call. Then, put that song on repeat:GARLAND: And then the song is sung over and over and over again for many hours by an individual male.WALLACE: Another fascinating thing to know here is that humpbacks are big-time conformists when it comes to their musical tastes. I mean it's such a clear change and you can hear it when you hear a new song to come and you're like wait what are they doing?WALLACE: To figure out what they’re doing, you actually need to zoom out and listen to the songs whales are singing across the whole ocean basin--which is exactly what Ellen did a few years back. It was like a massive game of humpback whale telephone.GARLAND: It's this amazing network the social learning of this song type which has been culturally transmitted to another population. And all the sudden the water around these east coasters is filled with this strange and intriguing new groove.GARLAND: And it seems that the song from the West Australian population is taken up by the East Australian population because it's novel.WALLACE: Just like in human music, big moments in humpback song history are more likely to happen when isolated musical traditions collide.)Think of the Beatles. Just because these are deep ocean animals that we only get brief glimpses of doesn't mean that they don't have complex societies.WALLACE: It’s pretty incredible to imagine the ocean as this cultural melting pot--a cacophony of languages and traditions--and even pop music--that we barely glimpse from the surface.SKERRY: I'd like to think that you know in the time ahead so much more richness will be revealed through- through science and exploration. But you know we are at this tipping point where it could all vanish and slip through our hands and most folks would would never know that it even existed.[music]WALLCE: You can see some of Brian’s incredible whale photos, and learn more about different whale cultures all around the world by checking out the links in our show notes right there in your podcast app.And while you’re there in your app, please, subscribe to Overheard at National Geographic!Share this episode with your friends, and--if you feel like it--give us a five star rating in [Apple Podcasts]...We’re a brand new show, and that really helps people find us--Which is awesome, because we’re super excited to share the stories we’ve got lined up for you this season.Make sure to tune in next week--- We’ll be back with an episode on lying and...

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