The Daily Flash: Eco, Space, Science (11/27)
Geysers on Saturn's Moon, Enceladus, May Signal Underground Water and Microbial Life

Scientists Begin to Decode Whale Speak

Humpback_whale_underwater_shot_2 Cetaceans are known to be among the most clever and intelligent of all mammals. They have brains that are roughly the same size as humans or larger, which are similarly or superiorly complex (although differently evolved in structure). This has led some marine biologists to speculate that whales, and other Cetaceans, could be as intelligent as humans, and may even have several unknown communicative abilities, that surpass our current understanding through sonar and other means.

Critics say that if cetaceans were as smart as us there’d be more evidence of it. But what type of evidence would suffice? The fact that Cetaceans are suffering from (rather than creating) the kind of environmental suicide that humans indulge in, is not necessarily proof of inferiority.

It is known that the prehistoric predecessors of Cetaceans were land animals who returned to the sea where there was relatively little fear of large predators and an abundant food supply. Dolphins and whales appear to have rich communicative powers among themselves and are very playful. It is also known that dolphins can use tools and teach their children how to use tools. Dolphins are one of the few animals other than humans known to mate for pleasure rather than strictly for reproduction. They form strong bonds with each other, which leads them to stay with their injured and sick. Dolphins also display protective behavior towards humans, by keeping them safe from sharks, for example.

Now Australian scientists studying humpback whales sounds say they have begun to decode the whale's mysterious communication system. They say they’ve already identified male “pick-up lines” as well as motherly warnings.

Scientists from the University of Queensland working on the Humpback Whale Acoustic Research Collaboration (HARC) project are trying to break the mysterious communication systems of whales. Whalesong is said to be audible to other whales halfway across the planet. But what do all their melodic squeaks, moans, grumbles and singing mean? The scientists have begun recording some of the whales’ extensive repertoire in an effort to answer that very question.

Recording whale sounds over a three-year period, scientists discovered at least 34 different types of whale calls, with data published in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America.

"I was expecting to find maybe 10 different social vocalizations, but in actual fact found 34. It's just such a wide, varied repertoire," University of Queensland researcher Rebecca Dunlop told Reuters.

The researchers studied migrating east humpback whales, as they traveled up and down Australia's east coast, and recorded 660 sounds from 61 different groups. Dunlop says that some of the sounds recorded could have multiple meanings depending on how they are grouped, for example, but some sounds appeared to have one clear meaning, such as the “purr” sound from males ready to try their luck with an available female. High frequency “screams” were associated with disagreements. A “wop” sound was common when mothers were together with their young.

"The wop was probably one of the most common sounds I heard, probably signifying a mum calf contact call," said Dunlop.

Perhaps something like, “Junior, Junior! Get over here now!”

Dunlop says there are clear similarities with human interaction.

"Its quite fascinating that they're obviously marine mammals, they've been separated from terrestrial mammals for a long, long, long time, but yet still seem to be following the same basic communication system," she said.

The scientists are hoping that further research on the subject will reveal more of their mysterious “language” and what effects boats and man-induced sonar are having on migrating whales.

Posted by Rebecca Sato

Related Galaxy post:

Cetacea: Mind-Bending Theories About the Planet's “Other” Intelligent Life

Story Links:

http://www.reuters.com/article/scienceNews/idUSSYD5901020071108
http://www.mpl.ucsd.edu/people/deane/research/nearshore_HARC.html
http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2007/06/cetacea-mind-be.html

Comments

"Language" is right.

go back to school!

maybe we will be able to translate the like-chello whales sounds when there's only the recordings.

eh ...seems obvious

eh ...seems obvious

You people are idiots

blah said:

"You people are idiots"

That is definitely the most perceptive and intelligent internet comment I have ever seen, bar none. There should be an award we can give to people like blah.

This article hardly sound empirical and shouldn't be taken seriously. I saw nothing in the researchers data that showed cetaceans intellegence to be superior or comparable to humans. The poster even saying that seems laughable to me. I am tired of these fringe radical greenies trying to act scientific.

wop

This is basically copy-pasted from http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2007/06/cetacea-mind-be.html

Humpback Whale Acoustic Research Collaboration (HARC) project is amazing. I wonder if a similar project can
be started for dolphins too?

thanks from tony

Humpback Whale Acoustic Research Collaboration (HARC) project is amazing. I wonder if a similar project can
be started for dolphins too?

thanks from tony

They are probably smart enough to buy carpet and flooring from http://www.jlrwholesale.com

I have sex with tarantula.

If they say "so long and thanks for all the fish" just don't panic, lie down and put a paper bag on your head.

That "WOP" sound will turn out to be the equivalant of a whale FART...

"It is an important and popular fact that things are not always what they seem. For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much — the wheel, New York, wars and so on — whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man — for precisely the same reasons." -- Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

From Matt: "I saw nothing in the researchers data that showed cetaceans intellegence to be superior or comparable to humans."

Hmmm. Possibly because it wasn't the focus of the study maybe...

Whale intelligence has been studied quite a lot though. And I'm sure you could easily find plenty of data in scientific journals if you cared to look...

Dr. Jillian Taylor was unavailable for comment.
" They like you very much, but they are not the hell your whales. ".
" They say the sea is cold, but it contains the hottest blood of all ". " Whales weep not ".

That dolphins and whales are superior or of similar intelligence to us is debatable, but you have to admit that these animals are something special. I mean I can't think of any animal other than the dolphin that is friendly towards humans in a wild ecounter. I mean think about it. If you go out to the wild and ecounter an animal it is likely that it will runaway in fear or attack you. But you hear of dolphins saving humans and people going out to sea and ecountering wild dolphins that are curious and friendly towards them.

It would definitely be a wonderful thing to be able to communicate with whales and dolphins!

abc2mp3

I saw nothing in the researchers data that showed cetaceans intellegence to be superior or comparable to humans. The poster even saying that seems laughable to me.

I'm surprised this research hadn't been done earlier. It seems like our culture puts a lot of emphasis on dolphins, for whatever reason. I could only imagine whales would be as smarter or smarter than their marine mammal relatives.

That is very good comment you shared.Thank you so much that for you shared those things with us.Im wishing you to carry on with ur achivments.All the best.

The Blue Whale is the largest known mammal that has ever lived, and the largest living animal, at up to 110 feet long and 150 tons.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Working...
Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.

Working...

Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)