If you’ve listened to whale song, you’ll have a sense of how intelligent and emotive whales are.
Their mesmerising vocalisations are other-worldly, a complex combination of esoteric sounds that sing through the ocean to communicate their mood.
Within the whale family, the talented singers include: blue, fin, minke, bowhead and humpback. But it’s actually only the males that sing, perhaps as a way to mark their territory or to woo a love interest. One baleen whale was recorded singing at a breeding site for 22 hours straight – now that’s dedication!
Just like a sailor sharing a sea shanty with an out-of-towner, whales also share songs with each other. Their sophisticated melodies evolve over time to include new patterns learnt from whales travelling from other parts of the ocean.
Watch this fab little animation to learn more about why whales sing…
Once thought to be land mammals, whales, dolphins and other cetaceans evolved to live in the ocean 50-55 million years ago. Taking with them the ability to communicate, sing and share information in many of the same ways as we do.
With brains far larger than ours, it’s no surprise that they’re the most intelligent animal on the planet. Perhaps you’ve seen their intelligence in action, in a performance at a seaworld-type place or in a zoo.
FYI: if you haven’t done so already, watch the film ‘Blackfish’ (also on Netflix) it’ll change your perception of keeping whales and dolphins in captivity.
Another trait that we share with our water-dwelling cousins is our sociability. Whales and dolphins live in groups that can include three generations. In these mini societies, they share regional dialects and even family nicknames!
Although not as complex as whale song, the social sounds used by most whales and dolphins are just as fascinating. As is their use of echolocation, where they send out a series of clicks to determine location, identify food sources and assess threats.
The DareWin organisation has been studying whale communication closer than ever before. The small group of researchers, made up of engineers and freedivers, have recorded over 100 hours of whale sounds, or more specifically coda clicks.
By listening to, and analysing the whale recordings, they’ve made some incredible discoveries, as James Nestor writes in a conversation with whales:
“Mr. Schnöller and Mr. Buyle believe sonar artifacts (like images) might be embedded in these vocalizations — that because these animals are already viewing their world through echoes, they may also be able to send these echoed images to one another. They’ll test the theory by capturing these clicks, sending them back to the animals, and seeing if they repeat them. Next, the researchers will create artificial clicks containing three-dimensional sonographic images of things in our world — a tree, a human — and send these as well, prompting, perhaps, a kind of dialogue.”
Imagine if we could talk to whales! Suffice to say that would be one for the bucket list.
Until then, the closest we’ll get to understanding our aquatic cousins is by tuning into the beauty of whale song, listening to their conversations or, if we’re really blessed, freediving with them like these sirens of the sea.