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Apr. 21, 2011

Peer Pressure: Not Just For Humans

by Katherine

Click to enlarge images

“Each wants to one-up the [one] next to it but still feels pressure to conform enough that it doesn’t stand out as an oddball.”

This quote, from an article in Science, describes the social behaviors of males. Humpback whale males, that is.

In new research published last week, Australian scientists recorded whale songs across the Pacific for a period of 11 years and then analyzed the songs for similarities. They found that whales basically have their own form of top 40 hits — specific song styles that slowly evolve and spread from whale to whale over time.

The research suggests that whales have aesthetic preferences and ways to transmit them — the building blocks of culture. But, as with humans, where there is a dominant culture, there is also a desire to conform. And we thought we’d invented peer pressure.

Listen to some audio of these catchy whale songs below. These clips are from Current Biology, where the paper was originally published:

(For more animal audio, tune in to Science Friday this week. We’ll be discussing soundscape ecology!)

Artist rendering

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About Katherine

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

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