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Mind the gap: why neurological plasticity may explain seasonal interruption in humpback whale song

  • A.J. Wright (a1) (a2) and L.A. Walsh (a3)

Much is unknown about humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) song. The behaviour is limited almost exclusively to males, occurs almost exclusively on the calving grounds and is identical within a population, although it changes periodically throughout the season. Much of current thinking associates humpback whale song with breeding, although it is not clear if it is intended to attract a mate, fend off challengers, or a combination of the two. There is, however, very little information on the internal biology of these large, sea-going mammals, so the majority of hypotheses have not considered much in the way of physiological mechanisms. Nonetheless, we believe that there is enough information available to infer that a seasonal process of neurological development and atrophy similar to that found in other animals may be present in humpback whales. We believe this explains why humpback whale song is not produced between breeding seasons and also why it does not vary between seasons, while it does so within a season. It also adds additional weight to the idea that humpback whale song is an honest signal of fitness to a potential mate or competitor.

Corresponding author
Correspondence should be addressed to: A.J. Wright, National Environmental Research Institute, Department for Arctic Environment, Aarhus University, Frederiksborgvej 399, Postboks 358, DK-4000 Roskilde, Denmark emails:;
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Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom
  • ISSN: 0025-3154
  • EISSN: 1469-7769
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