Note: You’ll need RealAudio to listen to the sound file.

“Roger Payne is the marine scientist who led the team that discovered that whales produce these songs. In 1970 he put out a record album called Songs of the Humpback Whale. It was one of the landmark events in changing the way humans perceive the animal world....Since the release of Songs of the Humpback Whale you have this great movement among people to disallow hunting whales, to preserve marine habitat for whales, and to think about whales and other marine mammals as fellow creatures that have some right to be here with us.”

Radio Expeditions correspondent Alex Chadwick

Here we present a recording of the sound sheet, also called Songs of the Humpack Whale, included as a page in the January 1979 issue of NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, as well as an excerpt from the accompanying article, “Humpbacks: Their Mysterious Songs”:


The sound sheet...contains a unique concert composed and orchestrated by one of earth’s largest and most endangered creatures. The humpback is the only whale known to emit underwater sounds in the form of “songs”—long, complex sequences of repeated phrases.

Roger Payne...has studied whale songs for more than a decade. With support from the National Geographic Society and the New York Zoological Society, the Paynes recorded all but one of the songs on this sheet. Selection 3, side one, was recorded by Frank Watlington, an acoustical engineer at Columbia University’s Geophysical Field Station in Bermuda. Selection 2 is a speeded-up version of that song. The sound of a humpback blowing a “net” of underwater bubbles to trap food was recorded by Al Giddings for Survival Anglia, Ltd., of England.

The Paynes conduct their research in Bermuda and Hawaii, both singing grounds of the humpback. “The Bermuda and Hawaii songs are different,” Dr. Payne observes, “but all humpbacks in each area sing only the local song.”

To introduce these songs to its members the Society ordered ten and a half million copies of the sound sheet, the largest pressing ever published....

Because humpback whale songs are among the loudest sounds made by any animal, you will experience the “presence” of the whale best by playing the sound sheet at louder than usual volume.

For Roger Payne the songs symbolize both the majesty and fragility of the sea. “We have learned,” he says, “that all men are created equal, but the whales remind us that all species are created equal—that every organism on earth, whether large or small, has an inalienable right to life.”

Excerpted from "Humpbacks: Their Mysterious Songs" in the January 1979 issue of NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC