Could music get Dirk to mate by valentine’s day?


Dirk, an endangered tortoise at London Zoo is so stubbornly refusing to mate, officials have decided to take drastic action ahead of Valentine’s day.

This comes in the form of the old French crooner Richard Clayderman, also known as the ‘Prince of Romance’, who has been serenading the tortoise and his potential mates in the hope that he can ignite romance.

Dirk’s lack of mating has not been due to a lack of mates. The tortoise has four females to choose from: Polly, Priscilla, Dolly and Dolores. Given that the last two are just 17 and 13 years old, lets hope it was an accident that zookeepers gave them the name and nickname of the abused, underage girl in the fictional classic ‘Lolita’. Especially as Dirk is estimated to be over 70.

Of course tortoise mature and age at a different rates to humans. So, odd names aside, does Clayderman have any chance of helping out the wrinkly reptiles?

According to The Independent, he likes to think so and was quoted as saying:

Music is a powerful thing, and I would like to believe it has a positive effect on animals, as well as us.

clarinet and whale

The French musician is not the first to try playing to animals. Shinji Kanki, an experimental music composer, wrote music especially for Dolphins in the ultrasonic range, designed to be played through underwater speakers.

David Rothenberg, a professor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, played clarinet to a humpback whale and even found evidence that for five minutes the whale had ‘sung along’.

cow loves REM

There is evidence that music effects other animals too. When cows were played different types of music it was found that ‘fast’ songs like Pumping on your Stereo by Supergrass caused milk yield to decrease and ‘slow’ songs such as Everybody Hurts by REM caused it to increase. They speculated that this higher yield was due to slow music relaxing the cows, much as it does many humans.

Similarly, when some rather unlucky dogs had classical, heavy metal and pop music played in their kennels for four hours at a time, scientists observed that they spent the most time resting when listening to classical music. Exposure to heavy metal caused the dogs to bark more often.

This was compelling enough for ‘The rescue animal MP3 project’, who are supplying tapes of relaxing music to animals shelters across america.  The effects can be seen in this video from their website:

Like humans, even pigeons and koi carp were able to classify music into different stylistic categories.  Rats too could distinguish between different sound patterns, but they preferred silence.  This was different to the tastes expressed by Java birds, who chose to sit on perches that triggered music by Bach over those that played Schoenberg or nothing at all.

Cat bliss

Cat bliss (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

Of course it’s difficult to avoid anthropomorphizing too much. There are many anecdotes of pets ‘enjoying’ music, but how can humans really know what an animal is feeling, or if it even feels at all?

Rather than going on about how happy our cat looks when it listens to Coldplay, rigorous scientific practice is key to uncovering what’s really going on. Even among the studies listed here, there is good evidence that many animals share with humans the ability to perceive music, at least at a basic level.  What’s more, through the study of anatomy, it’s been found that humans and animals share primitive brain features that ‘light up’ when humans respond emotionally to music.

Overall, these findings suggest that the relationship between animals and music is one worth looking into.  It could help us understand when we might have started producing music and why.

As for Dirk and his harem of young females, whether love songs will encourage romance is still not known. Either way, the zoo keepers will be happy. This romantic PR stunt will surely serve to increase revenue for the zoo, in the true spirit Valentine’s day.