Have we deciphered other animal languages

Researchers report success in deciphering whale communication

Sydney - Australian researchers have dedicated themselves to the complex acoustic communication between humpback whales (---> live audio samples can be found below via the "Whalesong" link). And they are sure that they can already assign some sound sequences to specific social interactions.

Scientists involved in the Humpback Whale Acoustic Research Collaboration (HARC) studied over a period of three years humpback whales that migrate along the east coast of Australia. They recorded the whale sounds with buoys and at the same time observed the interactions of the animals in order to be able to establish connections between the sounds uttered and the social situations in which they occurred. A total of 660 different sounds were registered by 61 whale schools: in addition to the well-known stanza-like "songs", humpback whales also have a wide repertoire of other sounds. The researchers working with Rebecca Dunlop from the University of Queensland assigned the recorded sound material to 34 different types of sound utterances.

Purring and screaming

In doing so, they believe they have filtered out some clearly distinguishable sounds: a kind of purr, for example, that males emit when they approach a female with the intention of mating. Shrill screams, on the other hand, were uttered when there were disagreements between several bumping males as to who was allowed to be near the females. As one of the most frequently recorded sounds, Dunlop described a "wop" sound, which was always heard when mothers and their children were together and should represent a basic call for contact.

Dunlop sees similarities in the interactions between whales and those between humans, but she does not want to use the word "language". As a further research goal, she would like to investigate the effect of man-made noise pollution in the oceans - from sonar or ship noises - on whale communication. (red)