Ocean Community News

Save The Whale Song: Historic Nature Recordings Salvaged

$50,000 grant from The Jeremy Coller Foundation will protect Roger Payne’s 1970 best-selling album and preserve 1206 degrading tapes for research and education

  • Donations from The Jeremy Coller Foundation, The Ocean Alliance Chair Andrew Morse and Recordings at Risk will complete project of digitalizing all original tapes and prevent loss of historic data
  • Became best-selling environmental album in history with over 100,000 copies sold, achieving multi-platinum
  • Album spawned a global “Save The Whales” movement, leading to the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment calling for a 10-year global moratorium on commercial whaling

The Jeremy Coller Foundation is donating $50,000 to the Ocean Alliance Inc, a US 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization, to support their digitization 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.

Without the digitization project, the degradation of the original tapes threatened the loss of historic data. Each tape will now be photographed, cleaned, have digitized 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.

Combined with a $30,000 donation from The Ocean Alliance Chair Andrew Morse, the grant will be used to digitalize 903 analogue tapes recorded in the fieldwork that went into the album’s creation. An additional 330 tapes are currently in the process of being digitized through funding by Recordings at Risk (CLIR) at the cost of $36,298.

The effort to protect the historic tapes and prevent their data from being lost began at the Interspecies Internet 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.

Jeremy Coller CIO and Chairman of Coller Capital said: “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.”

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