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Sperm Whale Messages

July 21, 2016

The click-like sounds made by deep-diving sperm whales carry personally identifying information.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Whale talk. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

(Sperm whale codas)

Sperm whales are the loudest animals on the planet.

(sperm whale codas)

But the messages encoded in their rhythmic clicking sounds have long puzzled scientists.

(sperm whale codas)

University of Southern Denmark marine biologists Cláudia Oliveira, Magnus Wahlberg and their team recorded and analyzed the codas of individual sperm whales. Wahlberg says each whale makes its own signature codas.

MAGNUS WAHLBERG (University of Southern Denmark):

So you can tell which sound is made by which individual, and that’s sort of a first step to a better understanding about how they communicate within these societies.

HIRSHON:

They report in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America that the codas are  used in different patterns during the course of deep dives. Wahlberg speculates that this may help the whales stay in contact while hunting in total darkness. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

(sperm whale codas)

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Cláudia Oliveira is now at the University of the Azores.

Researchers from the University of St. Andrews, the Wildlife Conservation Society, Aarhus University, and the University of Veterinary Medicine, Hannover, Germany also contributed to the study.

Story by Susanne Bard