Photos: The Culture Of Whales : The Picture Show Belugas play, a sperm whale nurses, and orcas teach their pups to hunt in a series of photographs from National Geographic photographer and explorer Brian Skerry.
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Photos: The Culture Of Whales

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Photos: The Culture Of Whales

Photos: The Culture Of Whales

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NOEL KING, HOST:

OK, listen to this sound we're about to play. You could think of this as a hit song for whales. And listen very closely so you can hear all of the parts.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHALE SINGING)

KING: Whales do sing. We know that - it's nothing new. But a new article in National Geographic explores the culture of whales, including how they come up with those songs.

BRIAN SKERRY: Every year, the humpback whale males develop a new song.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

National Geographic photographer Brian Skerry has spent years researching and taking pictures of whales. He says a song can go on for 20 minutes.

SKERRY: And it tends to start in Western Australia or in that part of the Pacific Ocean. And they pass along this song across the entire Pacific.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHALE SINGING)

SKERRY: I might be in a place like Tonga in the South Pacific or Hawaii or the Cook Islands, and you just hear this haunting sound. You know, I'll get in the water, and quite often, the male that's doing the singing will orient his body upside down, so his head is down; his giant tail is up above.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHALE SINGING)

SKERRY: It is this cacophony of different sounds. But they memorize it. I mean, they have it down perfectly. And what you hear in one place is often exactly what you'll hear in another place.

MARTIN: In his reporting, Skerry captured all these amazing images - beluga whales playing in shallow water, a sperm whale calf nuzzling its mother to nurse, orcas teaching their young to hunt.

SKERRY: These are very complex societies in the sea. We know they have big brains, that they celebrate identity, that they exhibit joy and grief. They understand that family, community, societies are important, and they need each other. And I think it's a nice reminder of what we already know as well.

KING: Brian's photos are at npr.org and in the May issue of National Geographic.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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