Scientists claim to have successfully ‘conversed’ with a whale

By studying whales, researchers hope to develop filters to any future extraterrestrial signals humans may receive

Vishwam Sankaran
Wednesday 17 April 2024 05:55 BST
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Scientists at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (Seti) in the US claim to have conversed with a humpback whale in Alaska as a proxy for communicating with aliens.

Whales are known to make complex vocalisations that can travel thousands of miles underwater to converse with one another but a complete understanding of their sounds has remained elusive.

Researchers have previously recorded several whale populations immersing in lengthy songs underwater that are also rhythmic and constantly evolving.

“Humpback whales are extremely intelligent, have complex social systems, make tools – nets out of bubbles to catch fish, and communicate extensively with both songs and social calls,” Fred Sharpe, a co-author of the study, explained.

“Their language is complex. They make whoops and thrups and groans and squeaks. Their vocalizations are fascinating. We are trying to figure out what the vocalizations mean,” Lisa Walker, another author of the study, told the New York Post.

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In the study, researchers played underwater recordings of humpback whales to other whales off the coast of Alaska.

They found that while most of the whales ignored the recorded calls, one of them – a female named Twain – circled the scientists’ boat, mimicking the noises for about 20 minutes.

Researchers are not entirely sure what the recorded call meant, but suspect it is a kind of “contact call” that whales use to call each other.

“It might have just been us saying hello, and her responding hello, and us saying hello again,” Dr Walker explained.

“We believe this is the first such communicative exchange between humans and humpback whales in the humpback ‘language,’” study lead author Brenda McCowan said in a statement.

Scientists currently assume that extraterrestrials will be interested in making contact and target human receivers.

This assumption, they say, is “certainly supported” by the behavior of humpback whales.

By studying intelligent non-human communication systems, such as in whales, researchers hope to develop filters to apply to any extraterrestrial signals received.

The latest findings also point to the use of effectively designed playback calls to make experimental conversation with whales and other interactive nonhuman species.

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