Katherine Payne

In 1959 Katy Payne received a Cornell BA in music and biology: since then her professional work and contributions have all stemmed from original discoveries at the intersection of these fields. Humpback whales sing long songs that change extensively, progressively, and rapidly with time – an example of non-human cultural evolution with endlessly fascinating details. Katy’s discovery of song-changing led to 15 years of recording and examining whale songs from the North Atlantic and Pacific Oceans: many mysteries are still unresolved. But she changed direction in 1984 with the discovery that elephants make powerful, low-frequency calls some of which are infrasonic and travel long distances. That finding led to two decades of field work in Africa focused on elephants’ acoustic communication and producing two books, Elephants Calling for children and Silent Thunder: in the Presence of Elephants (Simon & Schuster, 1998). In 2004 Katy founded the Elephant Listening Project, in the Bioacoustics Research Program in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, for purposes of research and conservation.