"Our findings reveal cultural change on a vast scale," Ellen Garland, a graduate student at The University of Queensland, said.
Multiple songs moved like "cultural ripples from one population to another, causing all males to change their song to a new version," she said.
The study, published in the journal Current Biology, is the first documentation of such a broad-scale and population-wide cultural exchange in any species other than humans, Garland said.
Researchers made the discovery by analyzing patterns in whale songs recorded from six neighboring populations in the Pacific Ocean over 10 years.
"The songs started in the population that migrates along the eastern coast of Australia and then moved -- just the songs, and probably not the whales -- all the way to French Polynesia in the east," Garland said.
"Songs were first learnt from males in the west and then subsequently learned in a stepwise fashion repeatedly across the vast region," she said.
The researchers say they suspect whales in nearby populations hear the new songs while they swim together on migration.
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