Origins and Development of Vocal Learning

Vocal learning is an interesting biological phenomenon. While language (in humans) is the most obvious form of vocal learning and communication, it is clear that many other distantly related animals use vocalizations to communicate. However, it is interesting to note the gaps in the amount of use of vocalizations for communication between related animals. For instance, humans use vocalizations as their prime communication tool. Whales and birds also use "song" extensively in communication. Yet primates - more closely related to humans than whales - do not use vocalizations or song in the same frequent matter as the afformentioned more distantly related animals. [4]

Humpback whales have evolved incredibly sophisticated auditory processing capabilities, possessing the ability to vary the acoustic features of song sounds and the structure of songs over time. These whales have developed highly flexible song production, as well as auditory learning and memory skills that allow them to continuously change the acoustic properties of their songs based on their exposure to the songs of other conspecifics. It has also been suggested that whales have the ability to detect and localize conspecifics using low-frequency sounds in their songs, as well as  judge how far a sound has travelled by its acoustic properties [1].