Whether to keep up with keep up the coolest tunes or to stand out from the crowd, male humpback whales change their songs over time, researchers in Australia report.
Researchers had known that male humpbacks sing as part of courtship and mating behaviors. Now they think the whales may be mixing up their playlist to show off.
“We believe the song is continually changing because the males wish to be novel or slightly different to the male singing next to them," Ellen Garland, a doctoral student at the University of Queensland, said in a news release.
Other times, the whales may be picking up a tune they've heard before, sort of a sub-Pacific top 40.
“The way whales change their song can be compared to how humans follow fashion trends – someone starts a new trend, and before you know it, everyone starts wearing the same thing," Garland said.
The whale tunes move eastward across the Pacific, starting off in Australia and spreading to French Polynesia, according to the study.
“I noticed that the songs moved quite rapidly through the six populations, usually taking two years to spread all the way across the region,” Garland said.
The observed pattern and scope of cultural change is "unmatched in non-human culture," according to the university's news release.
The whales were studied over an 11-year period. The full study is published in the journal Current Biology.