Can We Understand What Whales are Talking About?

Whales and dolphins are communicating with each other by special calls and sounds. They are the only species in their kind that seems to have a sound communication. But how and what are whales and dolphins saying? These are question scientists from University of St. Andrews are trying to find out. Peter Tyack, the principal scientist, has announced Whale FM research project which has its own website and over 16,000 recorded vocalizations. The recordings, that were mainly produced by two types of whales – Killer and Pilot, are available for public access and are expecting a detailed audio analysis. Volunteers are required to listen through the whales “discussions” and try to distinguish similar-sounding calls. 

Based on the recordings available at the Whale FM portal, and according to past researches, it was supposed that calls by Killer whales are more communication, navigation, and feeding oriented. While Pilot whales have their own dialect and the orientation of their calls is not yet distinguished. Many recordings stored on Whale FM have been obtained by attaching a special D-Tag device to the whale’s dorsal fin. Each device was equipped with a hydrophone (underwater microphone), that was used for recording vocalizations of its host whale and other nearby whales, and a motion sensors used for recording underwater activities and the dive depths. Whales were not harmed by the D-Tag device which was detached from the whale body after 30 minutes of experiment. Besides the special recording device attached to the whale body, scientists were also using independent hydrophone arrays that were placed somewhere in the ocean and used to record all of the sounds around. Then, using special software, whale sounds were separated from the overall ocean noises. All these data is available at the Whale FM website, where volunteers may work on detecting similar-sounded whale calls in an overall recorded stream and tagging the part where the similarity was noticed. Scientists will make the appropriate research on the selected pieces of recordings and will try to understand the “speech” of whales.