Ocean Alliance Digitalisation Project

Our Partnerships  —  Oct 2021

Songs of the Humpback

In 1970 bio-acoustician Roger Payne produced the album Songs of the Humpback which publicly demonstrated, for the first time, the elaborate whale vocalisations of Humpbacks. The album became the bestselling environmental album in history, selling over 100,000 copies. By raising awareness of the intelligence and culture of whales, the album helped spawn a worldwide “Save The Whales” movement, leading to the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment 10-year global moratorium on commercial whaling.

The fieldwork that went into the album captured 1206 analogue tapes that are in desperate need of preserving through digitalisation to prevent the degrading of the original tapes and the loss of historic data.

The Jeremy Coller Foundation is donating $50,000 to the Ocean Alliance Inc, a US 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organisation, to support their digitisation of the ground-breaking field recordings of bio-acoustician Roger Payne’s 1970 best-selling album ‘Songs of the Humpback Whale’. The album was an unexpected hit, selling over 125,000 copies and going multi-platinum as the most popular nature recording ever.

The Ocean Alliance Digitalisation project Each tape will now be photographed, cleaned, have digitised reels-adjusted for speed changes and multiple tracks, WAV and Mp3 files created, and have finished files uploaded to The Ocean Alliance’s server and preserved and made available via the Interspecies Internet collection at the Internet Archive, where they will be made publicly available for historical relevance and the purpose of research and education.

By raising awareness of the intelligence and culture of whales, the album helped launch the “Save The Whales” movement into the global spotlight, leading to the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment 10-year global moratorium on commercial whaling.

The effort to protect the historic tapes and prevent their data from being lost began at our Interspecies Conversations 2020 Conference last July. The event was supported by The Jeremy Coller Foundation, Google and MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms.

Lockdowns from Covid-19 have brought a drop in underwater noise pollution. In quieter seas, whales seem to be vocalizing more often, and this has enabled new research to be conducted into whale conversations and what benefits quieter oceans provide for whales and could potentially inform new policies to protect them.

Over 50 years ago Roger Payne’s ‘Songs of the Humpback Whale’ album captivated audiences in homes and classrooms around the world. Most importantly though, it inspired global action with humpback whales becoming one of the first species protected under the Endangered Species Conservation Act and a global moratorium on commercial whaling. I am pleased that through this project, these tapes will now be saved forever and will continue to inform research and education as we seek further ways to protect the humpback whale.

Jeremy Coller

CIO and Chairman of Coller Capital

Press pack

Ocean Alliance – Whale Research & Conservation

Image © Ocean Alliance