Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Language of Whales

by kellc, This post originally appeared Science World's Future Science Leaders blog.

Marine biologists at the Littoral Acoustic Demonstration Center have discovered that whales seem to to be able to purposely keep their calls from overlapping with the calls of others. Having developed a tool that can identify rhythms in calls and identify individual animals by measuring frequency, pitch and distance, these scientists have found that whales seem to incorporate a type of innate etiquette in their dialogues: they wait until other whales are done calling before starting their own call. However, instead of prioritizing politesse, they are probably doing so in order to be able to clearly hear the calls of others, and such, have realized the efficacy of waiting before calling, which might hint at a greater intelligence than we currently understand.

A humpback whale, known to use echolocation to communicate.
Researchers from the University of New Orleans have developed a tool that can examine and analyze the calls of marine mammals by using biomimicry and imitating how the human ear is able to identify a single voice in a crowded room, and by grouping similar-sounding clicks from calls (by distinguishing pitch and frequency) to isolate the calls of individual animals. Other researchers from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette have found that whales can change the intervals and spacing between their clicks in order to prevent overlapping their calls with others, and in a way that prevents the “cluttering of echoes” from these echo-locating calls.

A singing humpback whale.

“In other words, whales are polite listeners; they do not interrupt each other,” writes a researcher at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Natalia Sidorovskaia. Further, she believes that whales use this technique to communicate because it would enable a large number of whales to communicate at the same time, and explore their environment in a more efficient manner.
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About this contributor: Kelly is an ocean lover and high school student, and is particularly fascinated by whales. She enjoys being outdoors, writing, traveling and meeting new people.

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