Roger Payne, Whale Song Discoverer, Dies

Roger Payne, an American biologist and environmentalist famous for the 1967 discovery of whale song among humpback whales, has passed at 88.

Payne began studying the behavior of whales in 1967 and is best known for showing that the complex vocalizations humpback whales make are rhythmic, repeated patterns, meaning they are properly classified as songs. He also showed that before propeller-driven ships, the loud, low-frequency sounds of fin and blue whales were audible across the entire ocean, which has since been confirmed.

He founded what is still the longest continuous study of baleen whales, based on known individuals recognizable by their natural markings. The study currently follows 3,800 individual southern right whales.

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