Jane Goodall Remembers Roger Payne


I shall never forget the first time I heard the ‘Songs of the Humpback Whales.’ The haunting sounds made such an impression that even now, as I write, I seem to hear the songs in the air around me. Roger Payne’s fascination for whales began in 1967 when he went to Bermuda to record their voices. And he brought their songs from the ocean and shared them with an amazed world.

Up until 1986 commercial whaling was responsible for slaughtering thousands of these magnificent, highly intelligent and long-lived beings who have complex social relationships. The killing not only caused physical agony to the victims, but emotional distress to relatives and friends left behind.

Roger worked fearlessly and tirelessly, along with Greenpeace, IFAW and other organizations to end commercial whaling – and the general public, captivated by the haunting songs, undoubtedly helped to push the moratorium through.

Although I had long admired Roger, I never actually met him until 2014 – and I might never have done so had it not been for an idea for a documentary film by Argentinian actor and film director, Boy Olmi. He felt it would make a wonderful film if the two of us met and discussed our experiences in two very different environments – the hot tropical rain forest on the one hand, and the cold water of the ocean on the other.

The film – Jane and Payne – was made in Patagonia where Payne had, at one time, set up a little research camp for his study of Southern right whales.

What a wonderful few days those were. We sat and talked and talked, in that remote camp at the edge of the ocean. From time to time some whales swam by – and we spent one afternoon whale watching from a boat. But it was the evenings I loved best when we had time to sit and exchange adventures experienced in sea and forest.

Roger was also a cellist – and I‘ve always loved that instrument. So it was magical when, out on the dry grassland above the ocean, where there was only just one lone tree for miles, he played for me, And somehow, as I listened, the music seemed combined with the songs of the whales.

What a magical few days, and how glad I am that Boy thought of shooting that film. It enabled me to meet one of the greatest scientist and conservationists in an informal setting, out in nature, close to the whales he spent his life studying and protecting.

Roger, you have moved on, but your work will forever be remembered, and for your understanding and love of the whales you will be celebrated. And I speak for all the whales whose lives you have touched when I say a heartfelt THANK YOU.

About Author

Jane Goodall is a passionate road warrior, traveling nearly 300 days each year on a worldwide speaking tour to raise awareness, inspire change, and encourage each of us to do our part in making the world a better place. Jane's love for animals started at a young age and in July of 1960, at the age of 26, she followed her dreams and traveled from England to what is now Tanzania, to bravely enter the little-known world of wild chimpanzees. She was equipped with nothing more than a notebook and a pair of binoculars, but with her unyielding patience and optimism, she won the trust of the Gombe chimpanzees, and opened a window into their lives for all to see. Jane's studies has taught humanity one of the most important lessons - that we humans are not the only beings on this planet with personalities, minds capable of thinking and above all, emotions. Her findings shook the scientific community and made us re-evaluate what it means to be human.