The Music of the Earth — Part One

Whale breachWhen I talk about music here at The Starborn Revue, I’m usually talking about kids (or grown-ups) making music of some sort, either using a musical instrument, or the instrument each of us was born with – the voice.

People aren’t the only singers on our planet, though. And now I think I can hear a loud chorus of “Duh… birds sing all the time!” Yes, they do. There are others, though. Not people, not birds, and not my friend’s dog Christy, who used to throw back her head and howl when my friend would urge her, “Sing, Christy, sing!”

I have been reading a lot about whales lately, as research for a book I’m writing. I have become fascinated by these huge, mysterious creatures. They are the singers I’m writing about today.

Have you ever seen the movie Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home? It’s my favorite of all the Star Trek movies for many reasons, and one of those reasons is the presence of the whales and their eerie song. Indeed, the humpback whales and their song are the reason that the Star Trek crew travel back to the 20th century. If you haven’t seen the movie, you might want to check it out.

The humpback whales’ song pervades that movie. It’s the sort of sound that you never forget, once you’ve heard it. It’s a sound that fascinates scientists and non-scientists alike (including musicians like me).

Many different types of whales sing, but it’s the humpback I’m particularly focused on in my reading. It is mainly the males who sing, and although it seems to be a courtship ritual, it also seems that sometimes they are just singing for the sake of singing.

Those who have studied the humpback’s song – by the use of hydrophones in the water, and making recordings of the songs  – have discovered that different groups of humpbacks have different patterns to their songs, and the songs can truly be said to be composed. There seems to be even a sort of rhyme pattern to them. Not only that, but all the males in a group can be heard to learn from each other, and to sing the same song in unison – a whale choir!

If you want to learn more, a website called Whale Facts answers the question “What is a Whale Song?“, the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre’s blog has a post called “Listening to Whales’ Songs,” and Learn NC has a great lesson plan in their BioMusic section called “What Sounds Do Whales Use to Communicate?

I would love to hear whale song “for real” – in the meantime, I will content myself with recordings like this and this.

In the Star Trek movie I mentioned, the reason the Enterprise’s crew have to travel back to the 20th century from their own time is that in the fictitious 23rd century of Star Trek, humpback whales were extinct. Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen in reality. May the song go on. Click here for information on whale conservation.

Have you ever heard a whale singing?

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  1. What a lovely post. I love the song of the whales and one of my favorite movies is the Stark Trek IV and the Free Willy Series. There is a foreign movie that I recorded ib video tape when Nicole was a child that was about a French girl and her relationship with a humpback whale. Can’t remember the name, but it was a beautiful story. The child could hear the whales sing.

    1. Thanks, Pat! That movie you recorded when Nicole was a child sounds lovely.

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