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June 2022 Research Summaries and Sustainability Tips

Cheers to another month of research and sustainability!


Humpback whales use sound to communicate, but it’s only the males that perform songs. These songs aren’t all too different from our own pop hits: where we have pitches and notes and rests, humpbacks have moans, groans, whoops, and barks. A few of these units are arranged into a phrase, and then these phrases get repeated to make themes. Sort of like verses and choruses in human songs!

Humpback males aren’t super original when it comes to their songs though. Most of the time, males are singing similar songs to other males in that population, and these songs evolve over time very, very slowly. But every few years, something weird happens! A brand new song takes over, with absolutely no similarity to the previous song, and all of the males adopt it as it sweeps across the ocean. So researchers zoomed out and tried to find a pattern to indicate where this song came from, and found it in West Australia.

It seems as though every few years, the Western and Eastern Australian humpback populations run into each other and the two isolated musical traditions collide, creating something entirely new and exciting! This new song then ripples out across the ocean, exactly like a chart-topping pop song!

So why are these songs so catchy? Well… we don’t know yet. Researchers showed that the songs accumulate changes and become more complex and that these songs demonstrate three of the four components for “cumulative cultural evolution:” ‘introduction,’ ‘transmission,’ and ‘repetition’. However, it’s up for debate as to whether we have met the fourth criteria: ‘improvement’. Until studies can link reproductive success and individual singers, claims that humpback song revolution is an example of cultural evolution are contentious. That being said, the sharing and spread of these popular humpback hits still presents a strong case for us to reevaluate the way we look at animal behavior and to reconsider what we call “culture”.



We’ve talked about animal culture, now let’s take a step back and look at our own culture. Specifically, let’s analyze the harm western-centric conservation can have on Indigenous culture.

In Alaska, commercial whaling decimated the bowhead whale population for ~200 years and in the late 70’s, the International Whaling Commission tried to ban Alaskan Native bowhead whaling. But this posed a problem to the Inupiaq, native to Alaska, who had relied on hunting these whales for 4000 years and had developed tactics for hunting without overharvesting them.

Larry Lucas Kaleak listens to the sounds of passing whales and bearded seals through a skinboat paddle in the water.
Kiliii Yuyan (@kiliiiyuyan)

The Inupiaq successfully fought for their right to hunt and sustainably manage their own bowhead population. In the last 40 years, the population has tripled! It's not only important to strive for sustainability, but to work towards intersectional conservation and environmental justice. Many animals were hunted sustainably long before the onset of “western civilization”. Many of these traditions are still alive, so it’s imperative to include indigenous voices and to be conscious of other cultures in our conservation efforts.


As we prepare for hurricane season, it is important that we address the increase in hurricane frequency over the last few decades. Current research shows an increase in rainfall rates and hurricane intensities. Additionally, sea level rise is expected to exacerbate these circumstances. For more information on the intersection of climate change and hurricanes, read this news release from NOAA.


When hurricanes strike this season, don’t be caught unprepared! Besides having an emergency evacuation plan, be sure to have an emergency storage of food and water. Upcycling containers can reduce our plastic waste while also bolstering your emergency storage.

Additionally, cutting our greenhouse gas emissions can help us to prevent more intense hurricanes for future generations by mitigating climate change. By doing so, we can protect our communities and keep the ocean ever blue.

For more information on hurricane preparedness, visit the NOAA National Hurricane Preparedness Center.

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