Spermanent whales use sound to identify themselves socially in a way similar 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 group, a team of linguists and marine biologists have 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 scientists call “identity codas”, and they are emitted from the whale’s head.
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“A clear human analogy,” said Taylor Hersh, the paper’s lead author. the Guardian, “Does if you see someone wearing a necklace with a cross on it or a Star of David, you know just by looking at that symbol something about a group that the person considers themselves a member of.”
The study, which looked at seven different clans of whales, found that when whales come together, they seem to use codas to identify themselves. The interactions also seem to have an evolutionary aspect.
“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 sperm whales,” Hersh said.
Deciphering what each click means could also be possible in the near future, says filmmaker Tom Mustill in his book How to speak whale. Using a complex series of underwater listening systems that can zero in on a specific clan, it might be possible to translate what whales are saying to each other by comparing how 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 communication between sperm whales, according to its website. CETI eventually hopes to use whale “chatbots” to communicate with the whales, according to the outlet.