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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Talking to Whales

Talking to Whales

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Monday, April 18, 2016/Categories: natural history, wildlife conservation, marine mammals, sustainability, environment

                         Sperm Whale, the Azores  (credit: Wayne Osborn, the Whale Diaries)

In a Sundance short film, created by master animator and storyteller Drew Christie, a sperm whale is the narrator for Song of the Spindle. Spindle cells are special brain tissues found in humans and whales that are considered a indication of high intelligence. The sperm whale posed several existential questions to the human character on what is intelligence, what is conscientiousness, and who has an advanced brain. The whale tended to carry the day with his arguments.

The question of animal communications is a major area of behaviorial research. It has been of particularly interest in marine mammals llike whales and dolphins considering their skills at communicate across vast distances underwater. Humpback whales even create vocalizations involving multiple individuals who congregate in jazz-like improvisations to produce symphonies of sound that appear to be created simply for their pleasure.

Biological evolution occurred in two distinctly different physical media: one a liquid and the other a gas. Communicating within these two materials requires different physiological designs to solve sound generation and its physical reception. Whales and dolphins use distinctive clicks and pops to communicate with each other near and far. The clicks are a form of echolocation that provides a sonic image of an object---not unlike naval sonar---when bounched back to the whales brain. The whale use the information to hunt, migrate, and greet each other.

If you could talk to a whale, what would you say? A new organization called DareWin is trying to find a way to communicate with the large marine creatures. Their mission is to better understand dolphin and whale click communications and perhaps to make contact with these extraordinary animals. DareWin uses an innovative approach to record sonic "pictures" of human-recogized objects using clicks and pops and then broadcasting the recording to the whales. They hope the whales will send a response back. The whale vocalizations are recorded underwater by the French researchers free-diving with the huge mammals and their gathered data is made available to other whale researchers as well. 

The sperm whale who narrated the animated short film at Sundance had quite a bit on its mind to communicate and consider. DareWin may also provide some exciting results worth hearing.



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