National Geographic and Whale Songs

Photograph by Harikrishna Katragadda

When I was growing up, for many years, my parents had a subscription to National Geographic magazine. I remember piles of the yellow spines on the bottoms of bookcases and in boxes in the basement. I would spend my time flipping through the articles, sometimes reading but often just looking at the amazing and sometimes eye-opening photographs. I remember articles about aborigines in some of the remotest parts of the world, photos of women with their necks stretched by golden braces (for lack of a better word), children in Peruvian mountain villages in pretty sweaters and surrounded by goats, adventurers in deep, dark, icy caves standing amongst enormous stelactites, and mummies…oh the mummies. I would study their faces as they looked back at me…some friendlily, some desperately, some eerily and others with a trace of hostility…these people from places I had never heard of. I admired or was horrified by their surroundings. Their homes interested me, the mountains behind them caught my eye, the colours, the devastation, the perils all captured my imagination. Many of the photos I can still see in my head today; photos from (I hate to admit it) 30 years ago. To me if an adult magazine can generate that much interest in a 10 year old, it’s pretty powerful.

Photograph courtesy Dr. Louis M. Herman/NOAA

What reminded me of this? My daughter was asking me about whales, about the different kinds, what they eat (sharks?), if they kill people, how big they are, etc. One of my favourite issues of National Geographic was about whales, Humpback Whales in particular. In that issue they included a vinyl 45…it was very thin, like a sheet of plastic, and when I first removed it from the magazine I worried it wouldn’t play on the record player. But it did and I listened to it endlessly. Whale songs. One of the most eerily beautiful, natural sounds on earth. I wish I still had it to play for my kids…but now I guess there’s YouTube. So without further ado, I will leave you with a video which captures the Humpback songs really nicely. Enjoy. While you’re listening, I’ll be subscribing to National Geographic for my kids (well, and for me too)! Why didn’t I think of this before? (Oh, and by the way, National Geographic is not paying me to say this…I’m just enthusiastic!)

This is an interesting video about Blue Whales that I found while looking for the Humpback songs. You may want to check it out too.

For more on whales see (there’s audio here too):
Humpback Whales
Blue Whales


11 thoughts on “National Geographic and Whale Songs

  1. Whale songs are haunting. A friend’s friend of mine, who is a scuba diver, has told her that the songs have drastically changed in recent years (2-3 years ago) and have become very sombre in nature.

    Do you think they are the “voice of the earth”?


  2. This is a specially interesting post for me. NG was and still is my favorite magazine. For years I read it from cover to cover and enjoyed every subject it tackled except political ones. These articles remain very shallow and subjective and I would rather see NG concentrate on what it does like no one else: Broad and magnificent Geography.

    An 11 meter (2 tons) blue whale was found dead on the beach of Tartous last week. It is not the first time this unfortunate tragedy happens but what causes concern is why did it venture so far east into the Mediterranean away from its natural habitat in the first place. Evidently it was hit by a ship.

    They know things we don’t, the whales. I hope we can save them, all other endangered species and most importantly ourselves from the folly of our own actions.


    1. Well, Abufares, I don’t remember the political articles – back then they probably had no meaning for me. However, I think you’re right – when you’re very good at something, you should stick with it and don’t stray.

      I’m so sad to hear about the whale on the shores of Tartous. It’s particularly lamentable because their numbers have been so diminished. It’s presence in the Mediterranean is likely a result of the continuous and severe changes to the planet’s climate, oceans, and natural habitats.

      Do you remember Star Trek: The Voyage Home?


  3. When I was growing up, I wasn’t a NG reader. Here in Perú, we had a similar magazine, “Muy interesante” (Very interesting). My brother bought it week after week, and I devoured it. I guess I experienced the same effect NG had on you (and on AbuFares).
    A 45 vinyl! What a blast from the past!


    1. Your magazine sounds very similar, Gabriela. Probably most countries have something similar to NG. Canada has Canadian Geographic but it mainly deals with only Canada.

      Yes, vinyl. I feel old. lol!! 🙂


  4. There is a fabulous add out – that was done with musicians out on the ocean playing for whales – it’s amazing – makes me cry every time! I think it’s for an Australia Telecom company! The last fabulous report I saw – as a scuba diver – was on this lady that is breaking down the language of dolphins. AS in an actual language. The most amazing thing is that they all speak the same “base” language no matter the species – but each “pod” has it’s own dialect. I was itching to meet this lady for weeks!

    I love NG too!! I want to get the DVD set that has ALL the issues from the first all the way to 2008 I believe. I can’t wait!

    I was so sad when I was donating books to the local library to fins a fine print “please no national Geographic’s” ah … how sad.

    In Canada there is a great equivalent – Canadian, for Canadians but not just about Canada called GEO …something … isn’t there?


    1. Are you referring to Canadian Geographic, Fantasia, as I mentioned to Gabriela?

      I suspect libraries have been inundated with many copies of the same NG issues. They may actually have their own collection.

      A DVD set would be great, but there’s something about having the magazine to hold and flip through that still appeals to me. 🙂

      I think there’s so much about whales, dolphins, and so much other wildlife that we have yet to discover and understand. Likely they would have a lesson or two to teach we humans.


  5. We didn’t have NG magazines around the house growing up. But I do recall, in a world with two channels, the excitement we’d feel when a National Geographic special was aired on TV. It was an event in our house! I recall the excitement when that distinctive theme song began.


    1. I don’t remember those shows in particular, Brigand. I distinctly remember Wild Kingdom (lol). Maybe we had too many channels…like 13 or whatever the dial went to. 🙂


  6. The Voyage Home!?? That was my favourite Star Trek movie with the original cast. I remember when they landed the cloaked Klingon war bird in the park in San Francisco, and as they are heading out Kirk said “Remember where we parked!”

    Oh man!! Scottie and the transparent aluminum. Bones calling 20th century doctors “Barbarians!!” Checkov asking the military police for the whereabouts of the “Nuclear [W]essels” in his strong Russian accent (this was still during the Cold War). Spock doing a mind meld with the whale. It was a really funny movie.

    Not to mention the environmental message.


    “First Contact” still takes the cake, but I digress!!


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