SPEAKER 1: This is a production of Cornell University.
CHARLES JERMY: Welcome to the second lecture of the summer series sponsored by the School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions. My name is Bud Jermy, and I work there. The other free events in the six week series include Tuesday evening performances at Klarman Hall Auditorium, and Friday concerts outdoors when the weather is with us on the Arts Quad. This Friday, Radio London will be playing Hits of the 1960s from the British invasion bands to Motown and surf sounds.
But tonight, we're not here to listen to sounds of the '60s. Katharine Boynton Payne was born on a farm in Ithaca. Her father was a Cornell professor, an apple grower, and her mother a woman who loved books and music. As a child, Katy missed school frequently because of illnesses. But it turned out that was not a misfortune. It was really a blessing, because it allowed her to spend considerable parts of her youth exploring the outdoors and observing animals her maternal grandfather, famous wildlife illustrator Louis Agassiz Fuertes had painted.
Although intensely interested in nature, Katy was a music major at Cornell because the molecular orientation of biology did not appeal to her as a major. And so she minored in that. She met Roger Payne, a graduate student in biology, who was playing the cello at a concert in which she was singing. Jane Brody, in a New York Times article, said this about Katy.
"This was the first," and I'm quoting. "This was the first of a series of serendipitous experiences that helped make her preeminent in the field of animal communication, despite a lack of formal training and advanced degrees." Katy and Roger married after she graduated and they had four children. And that's relevant as you will see.
While the Paynes were on a trip to Bermuda in 1968, a Navy engineer played tapes that he had been making for 31 years. They were recordings of the sounds that humpback whales make. Katy describes this in an NPR interview as the tears rolled down their cheeks as they listened to these sounds.
As Roger's academic research turned to focus on these sounds, Katy began to study the 10 years of recordings that the engineer gave her, making use of her special skills as a musician and a biologist. And this was while raising four children.
University of California Davis Professor Peter Marler said of her work, quote, "she really was the one who worked out the most extraordinary findings about whale songs. The fact that they rhyme in predictable ways, in which the whales change their song each season." This research was to occupy her for more than 15 years, during which she was teaching herself acoustical biology.
In 1985 Katy turned her research attention from whales to another of the largest mammals, this time those on the land, elephants. Once again, it was her knowledge of music that was the important factor in her study of their communication. And this led her to found the Elephant Listening Project at Cornell's Lab of Ornithology in 1999.
She led ELP until 2005 when she retired as director. She continues to serve, though, in the lab's bio-acoustics research program where she plays an ongoing role. Over the years, Katy has appeared on television and radio frequently, and she has won numerous awards and honors during her distinguished career.
In addition to two books, Silent Thunder, In the Presence of Elephants, and her book for children, Elephants Calling, she has authored many professional articles, Katy's life continues to be full. She lists as current pastimes living on a swamp near Ithaca, maintaining a large vegetable garden, rejoicing in eight grandchildren, and learning to make stringed instruments from scratch.
She says she has completed one, as she characterized it, sweet sounding violin. And she actually has the violin with her tonight someplace. Katy Payne, singing whales, deep rumbling elephants, what their sounds reveal about their minds.
Oh, where did you find out all of that? Oh, good. That saves me quite a lot of time. Well, I have had an amazing opportunity to spend almost four decades in the presence of whales and elephants. But it wasn't the size of these huge animals that attracted me so much as the sounds they make.
People have been interested in both whales and elephants for thousands of years, but for some reason, it was only about 50 years ago, whenever Frank Watlington did those recordings for the Navy, that anybody was listening to the sounds they make in the environment where they live. And I just had the opportunity to be there.
Well, if you want to find out about whales, of course, what do you do? You're a human being, so you use your eyes, you climb to the top of the mast, and you look all over this ocean, which is completely huge and completely barren of animal life on the surface. And you're looking for these things, these little puffs of air, that signify that the whale has come to the surface and is blowing. And of course, you can't see that from miles away. You can only see it for a very short distance. And you can only see it very briefly before the whale goes back to his real life.
So when Frank heard these wonderful sounds, he was astonished and turned his private life into little boat searches to find out why, who was the source of the sounds. I'm going to play them for you in just a minute. Good old Frank. He established, through lots of trial and error, moving towards little blows that he could see on the horizon, that the sounds he was recording for the Navy. And what the Navy wanted him to record was-- I don't have to talk to that-- what the Navy wanted him to record was explosions that they were making on the offshore banks 28 miles off of Bermuda.
Well, he started hearing this. And this is a famous recording because it's so beautiful. I hope that you've heard it before. I'm going to let you listen long time. Listen to the pattern. See if you hear what seems like repeating phrases, repeating themes. And eventually, a return to what you heard at first. One male whale on the breeding grounds in Bermuda at a time when babies are being born.
[WHALE SINGING AND RUMBLING]
KATY PAYNE: One whale and his echoes. Echoes from the undersurface of the waves and from the bottom of the sea.
KATY PAYNE: That was the explosion Frank was waiting for.
KATY PAYNE: Back to the beginning.
KATY PAYNE: And so he goes on. It's a song, in the biological definition of a song, a repeating sequence of sounds. He will go on over and over again. That was a very shortened song. Sometimes they last 15 or 20 minutes.
And there are certain rules in the composition of these song which all the males in a population follow. It was a rare event to hear only one whale singing at a time. What we see here is a spectrogram, which is machine rendering of sound. And this is not a spectrogram of the song we just heard, but of one that was recorded in 1981, 40 years later, in the same population on the island of Tortola.
I'll let you hear just a touch of it. So you see, it sounds very different, partly because this whale is at a different environment. But again, you will hear and you can see in the spectrogram--
--that there are repeating--
Oh, not yet.
Oh, we're down on the third line, the squeaks.
It always happens in this order. All the whales are doing it.
And if you speed this little section up, you will hear that it's really a song that repeats. This is-- and it sounds kind of like birdsong. Try this.
[WHALE CHIRPING AND CLICKING SOUNDS]
We're now on the third line before the bottom.
[WHALE CHIRPING AND CLICKING SOUNDS]
Back to the beginning.
[WHALE CHIRPING AND CLICKING SOUNDS]
There we are. And on and on. You heard a good deal of evolution, a good deal of change in that song. But you also probably heard that there is a pulse that continues throughout the song, and that there are phrases that cluster together into themes. And that the themes repeat in a given order. And at the end, and I don't know what the whale thinks about the end, repeat into what started at the beginning.
Well, how did Tortola's song evolve from the Bermuda song, or did it not evolve? That was the question for me. How did this happen that we have whales singing a song that has such a similar structure a few years later?
A trip to Hawaii made the best way for us to study this, because Hawaii is not such a seasick environment as the offshore banks of Bermuda. And there we recorded for a number of years, Roger, my husband, and I. And we discovered that there's a gradual and progressive change in every theme in the song continually. And now, having recorded in many different populations, we find that this is the rule. To sing is to change.
Here's a little test for you. 1976, in March, the thing that we were calling Theme [INAUDIBLE] 5, had this phrase.
[MAKES WHALE SOUNDS]
A year later--
[MAKES WHALE SOUNDS]
And all the whales were doing that. And every time that that theme came up, the phrases were a little longer than they had been. One year later--
[MAKES WHALE SOUNDS]
Now, I ask you, what happened the next year? Who can make a prediction? Anybody got a prediction? I mean, you're noticing the separation between the first and second note, right? You're noticing the lengthening of the phrase? And how about the grunts? OK, do it. Next year, 1979. Everybody grunt. Come on, let's go.
Everybody, not in unity, just everybody do it. How many are there going to be?
Let's take a look and see what really happened. Yeah. You see those. Those predictions that I made were borne out by the whale. And then even the following year, even longer phrases and 13 grunts at the end.
Well, you say to yourself, what's going to happen to this song, because there were eight themes, not just one. The fact is that the other theme shortened, and then in 1981, there was a really radical change. In fact, if you look at what happened in the North Atlantic, and what we're looking at here is from left to right, the years between 1969 and 1982.
And then from bottom to top, all the various themes that the whales were singing. And the length of the white line tells you the average-- it tells you whether that theme was present in the song or not. And you see that some themes are dropping out. Other new ones are coming in. And the whole thing is a gradual, progressive evolution.
Well, what's going on? This is, of course, an example of culture, learned behavior. It wouldn't happen if the whales weren't listening to each other. So they're listening and they are imitating. And they have a sense of how the whole thing that they're producing is changing over time. I think it's amazing.
Oh, maybe what was happening was that new whales were coming in, and these present whales were learning from them. Or maybe all the whales were changing. Well actually, we were keeping a database of photographs of the whales that we saw singing, because after-- when they come up to breathe, they take a breath, and then as they dive down, you can see the undersurface of their tails, their flukes.
And the undersurface has a fingerprint on it. Look at this. Different whale. Different whale. So we were able to say, this whale sang this song, and to discover repeating, returning whales who were singing the song as it has changed with time. Cultural evolution.
How shall we interpret the changing songs? What would drive a strange behavior like that? The best the biologists can come up with, the best explanation, is that the female whales like innovative partners.
Like improvisation in human music, changes in whale song seemed to be generated by an internal process. We never heard them repeating sounds that were being introduced into the ocean. And as in music, the imitation that then occurs reveals listening and learning. Song changing seems to be thus a clear example of cultural evolution in non-human animals. Quite rare.
And for a novelty to be introduced into a cultural trend, and this is true of human behavior. It must have a certain balance of conformity and originality. And it seems to be that that's true also in the whale song. So I wanted to go on and study them forever.
But I was invited to West Coast to participate in a symposium-- oh, what was it? It was on learning in non-human animals. I presented this, and I became aware that there was a zoo nearby that had baby elephants in it. So I went to the Portland Zoo.
And there, when I was in the zoo for one week sitting next to [INAUDIBLE] developments that had an old matriarch in it, and a baby, and five or six in-betweeners, I noticed periodically that I was feeling a throbbing in the air that was not associated with any behavior I could see. And eventually, it occurred to me that it was associated with something I'd experienced in the Sage Chapel when I was a child singing in the choir with Donald [? Grout ?] conducting the Saint Matthew Passion.
That old organ in Sage Chapel has pipes that go down an octave below most organ pipes. And when those lowest notes were being played, I couldn't hear them, but I could feel them. So I thought huh, maybe elephants, like the organ, are capable of making sound below the range of human hearing.
And this would be quite exciting, because it was known that elephants have associations over long distances, and that low frequency sound travels much better than high frequency sound. So maybe this was the basis of a long distance communication system.
Well, who knows. But we were sent back. I went back to the zoo with Bill Langbauer and Liz Thomas. And we recorded continually for one month in the presence of the elephants. We slept in an elephant cage with rats. And it was a hairy experience.
And this is the kind of thing that we heard. First I'm going to play it the way it really sounded to us. You'll hear the noise of a zoo, a very noisy place. You will hear a heating fan go off. Then you hear Bill's voice say one, two, three, to coordinate the notes that we were taking together.
And then you'll hear [CLAPS], which was the old Rosie walking to the far end of the cage and flapping her ears against her neck as she walked. Well, that's not very exciting, but let's listen.
KATY PAYNE: You hear the heating fan go off. Bill.
KATY PAYNE: That was out of her trunk.
The cage was 90 feet long. It was a pretty long walk. And Liz Thomas and I felt a throbbing in the air as she approached the far wall. And she ran outside to see where the old elephant bull, Kunga, who was in the breeding condition called musk, where he was and what he was up to.
Well, he had walked a very long distance up to the outside of the wall that Rosie had approached on the inside. And the two were only three feet apart, but separated by a thick concrete wall. Well, let's take that little piece of tape and speed it up as I did with the whale song, and see what will come up into the range of hearing that we couldn't hear at the time.
Eee-- that's going to be the heating fan.
[HUMMING AND CLICKING SOUNDS]
Did you hear anything extra? It was an instant discovery. So I made my hands a little slower, but you heard perhaps [CLAPPING] the ears clapping 10 times in real speed. So there was sound and there was a lot of it.
And nobody had known about this. Even the mahouts who had been working with elephants for 3,000 years hadn't guessed that when they felt a trembling in the body of the elephant, it was actually sound.
Well, that was a wonderful experience for me. The next thing we wanted to know was, do all elephants use infrasound, sound below the frequencies that people can hear? And the answer is yes, actually. And what I really want you to look at here is the difference in what we know about how many elephants there were in the world at that time.
You'll see that for the forest elephants on the right, you'll see a very compacted habitat, which is the second largest forest in the world, central African forest. And the guess as to how many there are left in the world-- and this was in 2000-- lay between 22,000 and 209,000. So it's completely useless, and nobody knew anything about how many there are. And I thought, well, let's go see if we can use sound to find out.
It's a little hard to count them. This is where they live. But there are clearings in the middle of this forest called bais, B-A-I, probably made by elephants. Certainly maintained by elephants, that have delicious mineral water. And there, elephants gather for purposes probably of mating and of drinking and of sociality with their buddies.
They are very complicated social animals that live in many different layers of relationships. And there was a researcher, Andrea Turkalo, who had been climbing up onto this platform for some 20 years and watching the elephants and their behavior, and knew many of them by eye. She now knows 4,000 elephants. And she's in her what, Peter? How many-th year?
She's been watching them for 23 years. And here she is. This remarkable person who has dedicated her life to this project. But until that time, Andrea had not added sound into the formula of things that she was keeping track of. So we decided we must do it together. And for that purpose, we founded the Elephant Listening Project here at the Lab of Ornithology. And Andrea is one of the founding mothers of it.
Well, in order to listen to the forest and to the elephants, we lifted those yellow cases, which are only about this big, which contain inside them automatic recording devices. And this little electronic gizmo can record for up to three months, maybe more. But at the frequencies that we were listening for, the low frequencies, up to three months without you having to go and maintain anything about it. It just does it. There it is stuck in the tree.
And we did this with the help of Bayaka men [? Azobe ?] and [? Zu ?], I think these two are, who are fantastic tree climbers, and who are working in Andrea's camp with us. There you see in the middle, the bai, about more than half a kilometer wide, more than a quarter mile wide, and less deep.
And each number in the red box represents the placement of one recording unit. The reason we spaced them out like that is that we wanted to know if we heard an elephant call, who made it. If we could do that, and we can do that by triangulating from where the call arrives, at number three, for instance, and number seven, and at number four. And by making a triangle, you can look at the difference between times of arrival of the sound at those spots, and you can figure out, ah, it was the elephant that was right in between them.
So that was extremely cool. We were hoping to learn not only how many elephants there were in relation to how much calling, but also what they were saying. Wouldn't that be nice? The elephant dictionary.
There are different sounds that tell you whether elephants are mating, that tell you whether there's a family group. And if so, which family group. And judging from the elephant's own responses to the calls that they were hearing, yeah, there's a very sophisticated repertoire or vocabulary. We are in pre-kindergarten in terms of understanding its meaning.
But I will give you the experience of being the interpreter now. We'll just look at a couple of little sequences. This is a sequence of videos. So we kept continuous video for much of the time. And at the same time, knew exactly how sound was being correlated with behavior.
This is a story of Penelope, a newborn calf-- Penny, a newborn calf in the Penelope family. The matriarch is Penelope 1. Her mother is Penelope 2. So that Andrea was naming them. And this little cap gives a scream before you see her, when we're still looking at two members of another family, the [? Gagna ?] family.
The two we're looking at are subadult females.
KATY PAYNE: Lolling around, having a good drink.
KATY PAYNE: Penny's off the screen.
KATY PAYNE: Oh, she's being doused. The matriarch of the [? Gagna ?] family pressed her into the pool. Now, here comes one of the subadult females, also a member of the [? Gagna ?] family, and the other. Uh-oh. Here comes her mother. Oh, and a sister, oh, and a grandmother. Oh, and the grandmother's son. That is nephew. And another aunt. And yet another. And now we see Penny following the wrong family.
KATY PAYNE: She gets a little smack from her mom.
KATY PAYNE: Her sister gives a scream, a trumpet. The [? Gagnas ?] go away. They didn't want this baby. And now we hear this remarkable series of rumbles.
KATY PAYNE: We also hear a frog, I think.
KATY PAYNE: Can you all hear that? Family united.
What did those calls mean? Your guess is as good as mine. Were they reassurance? But what we know is that little Penny never wandered more than a trunk's length from her mother until the night had fallen and we could see them no longer.
Another series of calls in a different situation. A young calf had been ailing. And we had noticed her come into the clearing underneath our platform a number of times in the previous month looking more feeble each time. It was clear that she wasn't feeding from her mother, while her older sister was.
We didn't know what, but on this day, I did feel that she might die. And in my curiosity as to how other elephants would respond, we decided to keep a video record. Oh, sorry. What am I doing wrong. Peter, help?
KATY PAYNE: What's that?
KATY PAYNE: Thank you.
KATY PAYNE: Peter is the director of the Elephant Listening Project, and has been since 2006.
KATY PAYNE: The body of the calf is in the middle and is being approached by unrelated elephants. [? Oya ?], the adult, and her juvenile.
KATY PAYNE: That's [? Oya ?].
KATY PAYNE: A call of distress.
[ELEPHANTS RUMBLING AND TRUMPETING]
KATY PAYNE: This is not their calf.
[ELEPHANTS RUMBLING AND TRUMPETING]
KATY PAYNE: That's the youngster.
[ELEPHANTS RUMBLING AND TRUMPETING]
KATY PAYNE: The mother of the dead calf is in behind [INAUDIBLE] and the older sister.
KATY PAYNE: Over the rest of that day and the next day, 129-- I think it's 129 unrelated elephants passed by this little body. And 128 of them responded visibly. It was obviously their business, although they weren't relatives.
The most remarkable one to me was an adolescent male who rather than ignoring the scene, became tremendously involved in it. Went back to see the baby five times. Tried to lift it up 57 times.
I suppose you can make of that what you think. Reminds me of human behavior. There were some that didn't respond in a dramatic way, like screaming or lifting, and there are many who involved themselves in those way.
Well, I think that most lectures on whales and elephants end on a dark note. And on a dark note, I will just say that the Elephant Listening Project is doing amazingly good work under Peter's leadership. By using sound to identi-- from these gizmos which are scattered through forests to record not only elephant calls and figure out how many elephants are present and where, but also to catch poachers through recordings of gunshots, which of course, are on the recordings as well.
Something like 90% of ELP's effort is now concentrated on conservation efforts. But my job in all of this was to love the animals and to find out more about who they are. And one of the remarkable things that we saw, I will now let you hear in my final moments.
Strangely enough, when the elephants mate, it's a public affair. The news is spread far and wide. And immediately and repeatedly, it goes through the forest and it brings other elephants to the scene where, in fact, a musk male and a fertile female are present. This is an unusual circumstance.
Females are only in estrus, breeding condition, for a few days out of every four or five years, because when they're pregnant, it's two years. And then after they give birth, they're nursing. And that inhibits-- what am I saying-- estrus. And so they only come into this breeding condition very rarely. And the males have got to find them, but the males live separately from the females. So you've got spread the news.
OK, we've just seen a mating. And the female gave quite a whopping call. Oh, shoot. Try again.
Family after family went to the place where the mating occurred, sniffed the ground. Can we up the volume?
[ELEPHANTS RUMBLING AND CALLING]
And each family, when it came to the place where-- see when they're going onto the ground. Got terribly excited. Individuals ran around in circles and screamed and urinated and defecated. And rained from their temple glands and did everything they could to express excitement.
Then a family would move away and another family would move in and explore the same piece of ground.
[ELEPHANTS RUMBLING AND CALLING]
You hear that constant background rumble?
[ELEPHANT TRUMPETS AND RUMBLING]
This goes on for an hour, are you ready?
Well, it turns out from [? Maya ?] Thompson's dissertation, and she was one of the people on the team, that after a mating, these bursts of calling are unique enough so that they can be used at a distance, and they're loud enough so that they are probably informing distant elephants that there has been a mating. And they can be used in monitoring elephant populations to help establish the health of that population.
So what kinds of consciousness are we surrounded by? I think I'll end with that question.
Let's have some more babies. Anybody want to ask questions? Yes.
KATY PAYNE: Say it once again.
KATY PAYNE: Oh, yes they did. Yes, that's right. Multiple males mate with the same female. And the mating event is a pretty short thing. It lasts two or three days, and then she goes out of estrus, and he searches around for another. Yes, in the back.
Oh! [LAUGHS] Oh, how funny. OK, how do we turn this thing off? Escape. That ought to do it, don't you think? OK. Yes.
KATY PAYNE: The mouth is closed when a whale is singing and no air escapes from a blow hole. So it appears that all of this occur in a large internal chamber. And that this air is forced back and forth across vocal chords. It isn't fully known yet how they do it. Yes.
KATY PAYNE: In the elephants, the average call-- in the forest elephants, the average call ensonifies three-- what is it, how much? Three square kilometers. Yeah. But it very much depends on atmospheric conditions. In the savanna, it turns out there's a temperature inversion at night and sound travels 10 times farther, and on a clear night, than it does otherwise. And that may mean many kilometers.
300 square kilometers on a clear night in the savanna environment. This was figured out by some meteorologists, and 30 square kilometers at 10 o'clock in the morning when the conditions have changed. So there are marvelous factors influencing who hears what at what distance. Yes.
KATY PAYNE: Well, OK. Did everybody hear that? [INAUDIBLE] is-- all right. The male song is changing. Is it changing in a systematic way so that a rate of change can be compared to the rate of change in the behavior of, say, humans? Well, I don't know which behavior you're looking at, the length of the skirt or--
--what, or the evolution of, for instance, language as it changes. My impression is that human language changes much more slowly than these whale songs. However, it's not consistent. It's not steady. Sometimes we'd have two years in a row in which the whole song was very similar. And then sometimes we'd have a pattern like the one I showed you in which all the changes and all the themes were occurring rather regularly and predictably. And sometimes it was really fast. So yeah, no, I can't answer your question sensibly. Yes.
KATY PAYNE: Has anybody tried playing the speeded-up whale songs on land where there are birds? Nice idea. Yes.
KATY PAYNE: Well, OK. The explosions-- we did not see any change or hear any change in those particular songs. I don't have very many examples, but we're radically afraid that the human noise that's being pumped into the ocean, not only by military things, but particularly by shipping and by oil exploration, are reducing the distances over which these animals can hear one another.
Finback whales, before human noise polluted the ocean, their call went 11,000 miles or more. And I don't think there's anything that goes that far now without being completely disrupted by a human noise. Christopher Clark, who's been the head of the bio-acoustics research program has done wonderful work on sound disruption in whales. And what he fears is sound disruption.
And of course, since they are entirely, almost entirely, acoustic animals, they can't see very far, this is really, really to be worried about. Yes.
AUDIENCE: Where are the best results of trying [INAUDIBLE]?
KATY PAYNE: The best results of trying to--
KATY PAYNE: To analyze the whale songs?
KATY PAYNE: Well, of course, we use visual guides. I mean, I can show you. Well, I guess we need to go home, right? You want to see a little example of it? OK.
This is going to be the song that we heard at first. Look for a green line, and that's where the sound is coming from. This is a spectrogram. You'll see harmonic structure. The basic sound that you hear is low frequency, which is down at the bottom. However, we're hearing reverberations in the harmonics. And that gives us the texture of the sound.
I don't think anybody's up there.
You can see the echoes.
More of the rumble.
Much lower frequency.
Peter, you want to say something? Peter doesn't want to tell you, but you can catch him afterwards. Yes.
KATY PAYNE: People have thought that perhaps it could-- some of these calls could be used in sonar. Some whales really do use sonar. The sperm whales and some of the dolphins. But I don't think that it would make sense to predict that for the humpback whale songs, because the vocalizations in different songs and in different populations are so different. Yes.
KATY PAYNE: I believe that in the humpback whale, it is spread out. I could be wrong. Certainly, there's a focus being used by sperm whales and dolphins. That's different. But, yes.
KATY PAYNE: Are you talking about whales or elephants? Is there any evidence of symbolism in the whale song elements? Well, in fact, whales, like many male birds, have some calls as well as the song. And those calls are definitely referential.
For instance, if you're in a small boat and you hear [GRUNTS] and you see whales coming toward you, you might as well--
But in the song, it just goes on, just this pattern, this routine. And who knows why it's so long and complex. Think of the energy that must go into understanding what's going on and changing it in a certain way all the time. I don't get it. It's just wonderful. yes.
KATY PAYNE: Well, I think one-- are there common patterns between songs of the whales and sounds of the elephants? And the answer is basically, no. And yet there's sound, and they use low frequencies. The things that you heard and saw are all that I know about them. But I was hoping that the elephants might have a song.
Well, they do have one song. The female, when she's in estrus-- and here, I'm referring to savanna elephants where I've really see this. She goes [RUMBLING SOUNDS]. It goes on as much as 45 minutes.
And this is after she's been mounted by a male. By the male she didn't want.
And other males come. Yes.
KATY PAYNE: Do elephants have something like a culture? Oh, yeah. I'm sure they do. I think that as we learn more about what they're meaning to each other, we'll discover great differences between populations in some populations, and even within a population. And I think probably it changes, but I don't know. You said, do you think, and I told you what I think.
Here's an example of-- a really nice example of something we saw. Melissa [INAUDIBLE], who was with us noticed this. Little Penny, when she was just born, we heard her scream way down at one end of that clearing. And there were a whole lot of elephants in the clearing.
Nobody paid any attention except one huge grandmother. And she was at the opposite extreme. And she came walloping right down through the clearing to the baby. So she recognized the call. She recognized who the call was made by, even though she probably hadn't heard that baby scream many times. It was very human-like behavior. Grandma.
So that the two elephants in a herd, in a family group, who make most of the decisions are the oldest and the youngest. They're a little team. Yes.
KATY PAYNE: Well, that's a very good question. She's struck by how passive the mother and older sister of the dead calf were. And asks, did they make any effort to help her? Well, surely they were always together every time they came in the clearing. So the mother and the older sister were slowed way, way, way down to move at the rate that the baby could move.
I think that's perhaps the clearest indication I had. And I think that their passivity was depression, if I may use that word. I know I can't, but I did.
You got any ideas, Peter?
KATY PAYNE: Yes.
KATY PAYNE: How do they produce them? Oh, their vocal cords enable them to produce them. And the ears are specially modified, the inner ear, for hearing very low frequency sound. So the fact that it's called infrasound refers to human perception. Oh, I'm sorry about that.
It's below sound that we're able to hear. But of course, they hear the whole range. How can I choose? This is exciting. All right, the one with the big hand.
KATY PAYNE: Say it again.
KATY PAYNE: No.
Who will play it for me? Will you, Bud?
KATY PAYNE: Do we have any violinists in the crowd? Oh, come on. No, he is my son-in-law.
KATY PAYNE: Open it up, Eddie. Another question?
KATY PAYNE: Yes.
KATY PAYNE: Oh, yeah.
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE]. What kept you [INAUDIBLE].
KATY PAYNE: Sorry Peter, you've got to stand up here for a minute.
PETER: I can only think of [INAUDIBLE] So the acoustics [INAUDIBLE] so that's a big part of what we're doing [INAUDIBLE] acoustics [INAUDIBLE]. And the other key has to do with [INAUDIBLE]. Probably the most frustrating thing is, of course, [INAUDIBLE] But we [INAUDIBLE].
KATY PAYNE: I hope-- could you hear Peter? Oh, wonderful. There are some-- there's a little bit of literature about ELP at the doors. And I've got a few, do I, Peter? I don't know. Peter has some. Stand up so people can see you.
KATY PAYNE: This is awesome. Yeah.
AUDIENCE: Don't you play?
KATY PAYNE: A little bit. I didn't know why he asked me to bring this. But I thought he just wanted to see it.
KATY PAYNE: This is my first.
AUDIENCE: Oh, my goodness.
KATY PAYNE: Yeah.
AUDIENCE: I could keep going.
KATY PAYNE: [INAUDIBLE].
Does anybody want to say something after that? Yes, you're the last question.
KATY PAYNE: Good.
KATY PAYNE: Perfect question.
KATY PAYNE: We do not know.
KATY PAYNE: Thank you.
SPEAKER 1: This has been a production of Cornell University, on the web at cornell.edu.
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Bioacoustics researcher Katy Payne, founder of the Elephant Listening Project, talked about large-mammal communication July 13, 2016 as part of the School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions' free summer events series. With sound and video, the presentation illustrated Payne's groundbreaking research into the acoustic behavior of elephants and whales, who use sound in a variety of ways to support their complex, far-flung societies.
Founded in the mid-1980s as part of the Bioacoustics Research Program of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Elephant Listening Project focused its early work on the variety and social functions of elephants’ calls in four African countries. Its top priority now is conservation, and remote acoustic monitoring in Central Africa has the potential to reveal poaching activities as well as the presence and condition of endangered elephant populations.