The University Record, February 12, 2001

Photo story: Biologist, musicians find common ground in whale songs

As a recorded whale song resonates through the Exhibit Museum of Natural History’s Rotunda, musician Brian Hedeen mimics the whale’s distinctive low pitches with the long, tube-shaped didgereedoo. Hedeen and Michael Gould, a shakuhachi flute grand master, performed Feb. 7 during the program ‘Whale Songs and Shakuhachi Flute.’

Presented by the Exhibit Museum and the Ann Arbor Art Center, the program is part of ‘The Nature of Art and Science’ lecture series, which pairs an artist and a scientist who work with similar natural phenomena but to different ends.

Salvatore Cerchio, Ph.D. candidate in biology, Museum of Zoology, spoke about his research on humpback whale songs. Song plays a large role in male breeding behavior, Cerchio said. In solos and choruses, male whales ‘sing’ either to attract female whales or to challenge other males. Though many whales sometimes sing in the same proximity, each whale song is unique. Females travel through the chorusing group and choose the male whale whose song they find most appealing. Whales can sing for hours at a time. The longest recorded song session lasted 22 hours, Cerchio noted.

The shakuhachi flute, Gould said, was developed by Zen monks 1,200 years ago in Japan. The monks spent much of their lives outside and tied their lifestyle to the natural elements. In the Exhibit Museum performance, the flute and Australian didgereedoo represented the high and low pitches in the humpback whale’s vocal range.

The next free, public program in the series, titled ‘The Nature of Identity,’ will feature Chris Allen, FBI agent and forensic specialist, and Heidi Dauphin, M.F.A. candidate, School of Art and Design, in a discussion at 7 p.m. March 21 at the Exhibit Museum.

Photo by Martin Vloet, U-M Photo Services