Today, we’re exploring music of a very different kind. These recordings were made in the 1950s and 1960s by U.S. Navy engineer Frank Watlington and bio-acoustician Dr. Roger Payne. Released in 1970 for general consumption, the album Songs of the Humpback Whale went multi-platinum, and has been widely credited with inspiring generations of nature lovers to come to the aid of the gentle, intelligent creatures.
Watlington first discovered the sounds while working at a top-secret U.S. Government listening station in Bermuda. At that time, commercial whaling had driven many species of whale to the brink of extinction, so he didn’t tell anyone about the sounds he’d discovered because he was afraid they would be used to hunt the giant mammals. Eventually, he did seek out the advice of Dr. Payne, who helped analyze and decode the sounds.
“Few experiences have had a deeper effect on me — it changed my life. When I heard the sounds that those whales made, it had such a profound effect on me that I wanted everyone to hear them, and the idea of making a record was born.”Dr. Roger Payne
I’m not big on religion, but I find listening to these other-worldly songs as close to a religious experience as I’ve ever felt. How anyone could mistreat or hunt these creatures is utterly beyond me. I’m not the only one who finds them inspiring and deeply important. NASA included a segment of the recording on their Golden Record which was sent in the Voyager spacecraft in 1977, alongside music by Bach, Mozart and Louis Armstrong.
You can learn more about these amazing animals and their music on the Whale.org website.