"All the males in a population sing the same complex song, but the pattern of song changes with time, sometimes quite rapidly, across the population," said Michael Noad, professor at University of Queensland in Australia.
Learning new songs is a form of what is known as 'social learning', which is where individual animals learn behaviours from each other rather than having them passed on from one generation to another genetically.
Researchers focused on whale songs that were in the process of changing from one type to another.
Researchers recorded many individual singers from several populations, including the eastern Australian population and other populations in the South Pacific.
They also found that when researchers switched mid-song from old to new or new to old, it was during a theme most similar to another theme in either old or new songs, researchers said.
"These themes may have been used as a way of bridging the old and new songs and therefore help with social learning," Noad said.
"This provides some evidence for how animals rapidly learn large, complex displays and may have relevance for understanding how human language, the most outstanding example of social learning, evolved," he added.
The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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