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Science
A Life with...Whales 
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The first of three programmes in which people who've spent their lives with wildlife share their insights and close encounters with the species that have inspired them.
Monday 5th April 2004 9.00 - 9.30pm

Searching for Sperm whales off the Maldives, Grant Sonnex meets Roger Payne, the man who first told the world about whale song and who has since spent 40 years studying whales and campaigning for their conservation

Roger Payne
Roger Payne on board the Odyssey
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After a brief encounter with a whale at sea in the mid-1960s, Roger Payne dropped his research on the sound world of owls and bats and devoted his life to the understanding and protection of whales.

His first big break was a chance meeting with a member of the US Navy off Bermuda whose job was to listen on underwater microphones for Soviet submarines. But what he heard, and what he shared with Payne, were his recordings of humpback whales. Payne soon realised that the whales' sounds were not only very beautiful, but also structured and evolving according to very similar rules to human music.

While continuing to try to fathom the role of the song in humpback life, Payne spread the sounds of whale song around the world and wrote an article for National Geographic Magazine which was accompanied by one of those floppy records that the magazine used to include. At over 10 Million copies, it is still the largest single print run of any recording ever published!

This combination of scientific research, science popularization and education is what has characterised Roger Payne's life. It is a mixture that led him into controversy as his work became more focused on whale conservation. "Most fellow scientists, I'm sorry to say, are cowards." says Payne "I've been outspoken all my life, and I've paid for it."

Grant Sonnex met Payne off the Maldive Islands aboard the 93 foot ketch, Odyssey, which is owned by Ocean Alliance - a conservation charity that Payne founded in 1971. The Odyssey is currently on a five-year voyage assessing the health of the world's oceans by taking tiny skin samples from Sperm Whales which - at the top of the marine food chain - collect and concentrate man-made pollutants. "There is nothing," says Payne "that interests me less than taking samples of skin from whales and analysing them for pollutants, but no one else is doing this work, and it needs to be done."

Spending a week with Payne aboard the Odyssey, the warmth and passion of the man emerges as well as his empathy with whales and the reality of a life spent at sea in search of whales and understanding.
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