Scientists report groundbreaking first conversation between humans and whales

Researchers from the SETI Institute report what may have been the first conversation with whales in the humpbacks' own language. The SETI scientists have been exploring interspecies communication to learn something about how we may someday interact with extraterrestrial intelligences. The human-whale conversation took place at a humpback feeding area off the coast of Alaska.

"We believe this is the first such communicative exchange between humans and humpback whales in the humpback 'language,' said UC Davis research behaviorist Dr. Brenda McCowan who collaborated with the SETI team on this effort.

From the SETI Institute:

In response to a recorded humpback 'contact' call played into the sea via an underwater speaker, a humpback whale named Twain approached and circled the team's boat, while responding in a conversational style to the whale 'greeting signal.' During the 20-minute exchange, Twain responded to each playback call and matched the interval variations between each signal[…]

Similar to studying Antarctica as a proxy for Mars, the Whale-SETI team is studying intelligent, terrestrial, non-human communication systems to develop filters to apply to any extraterrestrial signals received. The mathematics of information theory to quantify communicative complexity – (for example rule structure embedded in a received message) will be utilized

The researchers from the SETI Institute, UC Davis, and the Alaska Whale Foundation report on the project in the science journal PeerJ: "Interactive bioacoustic playback as a tool for detecting and exploring nonhuman intelligence: "conversing" with an Alaskan humpback whale"