Interview by Krista Tippett, host / On Being

We were made and set here, the writer Annie Dillard once wrote, “to give voice to our astonishments.” Katy Payne is a renowned acoustic biologist with a Quaker sensibility. She’s found her astonishment — and many life lessons — in listening to two of the world’s largest creatures. From the wild coast of Argentina to the rainforests of Africa, she discovered that humpback whales compose ever-changing songs and that elephants communicate across long distances by infrasound.

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Katy Payne is a researcher in the bioacoustics research program of Cornell University’s Laboratory of Ornithology and part of the research team that produced the original recording “Songs of the Humpback Whale.” Her book is Silent Thunder: In the Presence of Elephants.