The songs of the humpback whale are among the most complex in the animal kingdom and can last for hours. Until now, only humans have demonstrated the ability to use such a hierarchical structure of communication.
The research by Ryuji Suzuki, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute pre-doctoral fellow in neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, offers a new approach to studying animal communication. But Suzuki and colleagues stress they do not claim humpback whale songs meet the linguistic rigor necessary for a true language.
"Humpback songs are not like human language, but elements of language are seen in their songs," said Suzuki and co-authors John Buck and Peter Tyack.
The research is published online in the March issue of the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America.