The use of song as a reproductive display is common in the animal kingdom; however, for many taxa, little is known of song ontogeny. Male humpback whales produce elaborate songs on low latitude breeding grounds in winter and begin to sing on high latitude feeding grounds in late summer, yet songs from the two locations are rarely compared. Seasonal song ontogeny in western North Atlantic humpback whales was explored by comparing songs recorded in high latitude feeding grounds (Canada in spring 2016 and fall 2016 to winter 2017) with songs recorded in a low latitude breeding ground (Dominican Republic in winter and spring 2017). High-quality song samples were selected, and every phrase annotated. Song theme order, song duration, and number of phrase repetitions were compared across samples. The most variability in theme order was found between November and December in the Canadian recordings, a phase in song ontogeny that may be important for learning. Song duration gradually increased, via an increase in phrase repetitions, through the breeding season, before peaking in the Dominican Republic between January and March. A comparison to oscine bird seasonal song ontogeny revealed many similarities, highlighting potentially similar physiological processes between humpback whales and songbirds.
Humpback whale, song, ontogeny, breeding display, oscine birds