Rhymes Discovered in Whale Songs, Escaped Farmed Salmon Endanger Wild Populations, and More

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Biologists analyzed more than 500 humpback whale songs and found that more than 35% of the compositions contain rhyming sounds, which the scientists believe may be mnemonic devices to help the whales learn and remember the songs. 

Rhyming Sounds Found in Humpback Whale Songs

In research sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund, biologists Linda Guinee and Katharine Payne analyzed more than 500 humpback whale songs and found a surprising common trait in more than 35% of the compositions: rhyming sounds that the scientists believe may be mnemonic devices to help the whales learn and remember the songs. “Humpback whale songs last five to 15 minutes and sometimes as long as half an hour–longer than a symphonic movement,” Payne says. “One song leads into the next, in which the same sequence of material is repeated. A whale may continue such a singing session for 21 hours without a pause. At any given time,” she explains, “all the adult males in one area as large as the North Pacific Ocean Basin are singing the same song. But over the singing season, the whales’ song changes…and after a few years the song is so different in form it is hard to recognize. Each singer changes his song in the same ways as do the others; that can only mean they are all listening to, imitating and learning from each other.” Payne is quick to point out that the discovery of rhyming sounds doesn’t prove they’re mnemonic devices–but it’s certainly a possibility. “Sometimes,” she says, “many different sorts of changes–changes in rhythm, pitch and organization–are all being worked into the song simultaneously. One wonders how new material is learned and remembered in a matter of weeks.” We humans have long used rhymes as memory aids: in epic poems, for example, and in such date-recalling ditties as, “In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”

Americans Increasingly Worried about the Environment

A recent study of public opinion polls conducted over the past couple of decades reveals both a growing concern among Americans over the environment and a distinct increase in our willingness to make sacrifices in order to protect it. In a 1970 Gallup poll, only 48% of those interviewed expressed concern over water pollution; when the same question was asked last year, 84% said they were worried. Likewise, only 46% of the 1970 interviewees considered air pollution a problem, as compared to 73% in the 1988 poll. In 1978, a Cambridge Reports poll found only 19% of respondents willing to protect wilderness areas, while a sizable 65% said such places should be opened to energy development. Last year, the results were considerably different: 47% favored protection, and the number of those who approved development dropped to 42%. Perhaps more important, we’ve apparently become more willing to put our money where our mouths are: In a 1977 National Opinion Research Center poll, only 48% thought more money should be spent on the environment. Last year, 65% said such spending should be increased.  

New Alarm Clock Emits Smells to Wake You Up

Americans may soon be waking up to the environment in a different way if a new alarm clock being marketed in Japan by Seiko becomes popular here. The “Urare” (which means “bright and clear”) emits the smell of pine and eucalyptus when its alarm goes off.

Scotland’s Wild Salmon at Risk from Escaped Farmed Salmon

The genetic integrity of Scotland’s wild salmon is being threatened by farmed salmon that escape into the country’s open waters, according to the Atlantic Salmon Trust. Because commercially grown salmon are less resistant to disease than their untamed cousins, interbreeding could dilute the natural disease resistance of the wild fish, leaving the door open to serious epidemics and massive population decline.

Help for Reducing Home Energy Consumption

Nothing makes homeowners think energy conservationfaster than the arrival of the heating season’s first few fuel bills. And there are few better places to get good advice on reducing those bills than the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Savers site. Among the many helpful fact sheets they offer are Insulation, which discusses the various insulating materials and how to buy and install them, and Home Energy Assessments, a valuable guide to professional and do-it-yourself analyses of household power consumption and conservation.

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