May 20, 2024
Sperm whales use sound to identify themselves socially in a similar manner to how humans use clothing, a new study revealed.

Sperm whales use sound to identify themselves socially in a similar manner to how humans use clothing, a new study revealed.

Sperm whales in the Pacific Ocean use sound as a form of “symbolic marking” identifying themselves as part of a specific clan, or pod, a team of linguists and marine biologists said in a study published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The sounds are similar to a sequence of Morse code, which the scientists call “identity codas,” and they are emitted from the whale’s head.

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“A clear human analogy,” Taylor Hersh, the paper’s primary author, told the Guardian, “is that if you see someone wearing a necklace with a cross on it or a Star of David, you know just from looking at that symbol something about a group the person considers themselves to be a member of.”

The study, which examined seven different clans of whales, revealed that when the whales come together, they appear to use the codas to identify themselves. The interactions appear to have an evolutionary aspect as well.

“In humans, as cultural groups overlap more and more, we see more and more emphasis on these symbols. The same seems to be happening with the sperm whales,” Hersh said.

Deciphering what each click means could also be possible in the near future, filmmaker Tom Mustill said in his book How to Speak Whale. By using a complex series of underwater listening systems that can concentrate on a specific clan, it could be possible to translate what the whales are saying to each other by comparing how the sea creatures react to different situations.

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A new scientific effort, the Cetacean Translation Initiative, or CETI, is applying advanced machine learning and gentle robotics to decipher the communication between sperm whales, according to its website. CETI is hoping to eventually use whale “chatbots” to communicate with the whales, according to the outlet.

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