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April 10, 2012
Contact: Kevin Coburn, Director of Communications

Acoustic Biologist Katy Payne to Speak at Green Mountain College

POULTNEY-Trained as a musician, acoustic biologist Katy Payne was a pioneer in the discovery that humpback whales compose ever-changing song to communicate, and first to understand that elephants communicate with one another across long distances by infra-sound. Her presentation "Whale Songs and Elephant Loves" is based on a ten-year study of how elephants communicate that interweaves science with autobiography, myth, and spirituality. Through sound and pictures, Katy will be presenting insights she has discovered from two of the earth’s largest and most mysterious creatures.

Katy Payne studied Music and Biology at Cornell University as an undergraduate. In the 1960s, she was part of the team of scientists that discovered how humpback whales communicate. Later on, she discovered that their songs are fixed, but actually composed and constantly evolving.

Somewhat by chance, during her studies about whales, Katy Payne had an opportunity to observe elephants in a zoo in Portland, Oregon. In this occasion she identifies some of the sounds they produced as infra-sonic as well. She then spent 15 years monitoring and decoding the basic vocabulary of African elephants, and in 1999 she founded the Elephant Listening Project in the equatorial rainforests of central Africa.

Currently she is a research associate at the Bioacoustics Program at Cornell University's Laboratory of Ornithology, where she lives, in Ithaca, N.Y. She was part of the research team that produced the original recording Songs of the Humpback Whale, and recently she wrote the book Silent Thunder: In the Presence of Elephants.

Her book Silent Thunder is a natural history about how the humans and animals interact and participate in the world, showing their characteristic in common, from ways of demonstrating affection to individuality. Silent Thunder was selected as a 1998 Scientific American Best Book for Young Readers and featured on NBC's Dateline.

Her writing has appeared in several internationally renowned publications, such as National Geographic, Natural History, and American Scientist. Her book Elephants Calling was selected as outstanding in 1992 by the National Science Teachers’ Association, the John Burroughs Association, and Scientific American. In 1990 she was a recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship.

Her presentation will take place on April 26, at 6 p.m., in the East Room. This event is free and open to the public.

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