Researchers at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile trained an orca named Wikie to mimic words like "hello," "bye-bye," and other human speech sounds. John Lilly, I wish you were around to be part of this conversation. From the New York Times:
“We wanted to study vocal imitation because it’s a hallmark of human spoken language, which is in turn important for human cultural evolution,” said José Zamorano-Abramson, who led the study as a postdoctoral researcher at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile. “We are interested in the possibility that other species also have cultural processes...."
The learning of culture, including vocal traditions, “is a key capability in the intertwining lives of killer whales,” he said, “and one that is critically harmed in captivity,” where animals are isolated and unable to develop the depth of emotions they would in the wild...
It's from 2012, but National Geographic's article about a Beluga whale imitating human speech is not to be missed. Embedded above is a recording of Noc, who pretty much sounds like he's taking the mickey out of us.
Researchers first noticed something peculiar back in 1984, when they heard people talking around NOC's enclosure when no one else was nearby.
"You could hear there was a conversation, but you couldn't make out what they were saying," said study co-author Sam Ridgway of the U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program in San Diego.
The source of the chattering was later confirmed when a human diver thought someone had told him to get out of the whale's tank—it turned out to be NOC, repeating a sound like the word "out."
Doo doo do doooo (*muttering*) stupid humans DO DAAA DOD DOOOO! Read the rest
In the 1960s and 1970s, the US Navy researched whether they could use synthesized whale sounds for submarines to have encoded conversations across long distances underwater. Called Project COMBO, it was a fascinating attempt at biomimicry. The project's culminating experiment even attracted a pod of whales. Alas, Project COMBO ultimately failed, but it makes for a great story. From Cara Giaimo's article in Atlas Obscura:
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Positioning themselves off of Catalina Island, 150 feet underwater, they blasted their squeaky, warbly codes through a transmitter. The receiver, placed at varying distances away, plucked the messages out of the noise flawlessly. Another test, in the fall, went deeper down and extended the range. In June of 1974, they sent out a real submarine, the USS Dolphin, which successfully transmitted sounds to a receiving ship—and, in a true vote of confidence, attracted a pod of pilot whales.
After these testing successes, researchers were left with a lot of work to do. Although they had the pilot whale on lock, they wanted to expand their repertoire by inventing “techniques and equipment to synthesize large whale sounds and small whale screams.” They still had to create scalable versions of their tools, including the call generator and the spectrograph-recognizer. Looking ahead, more problems loomed: the researchers figured this was a good enough idea that the Soviets would steal it, at which point American submariners would need to add another skill to their arsenal. “Fleet sonarmen must become more familiar with bioacoustic signals,” they wrote—inspiring thoughts of submarine soldiers, facing long days underwater, taking up sonic seal- and whale-watching.
We've posted about this in the past, but it was brought to my attention that the legendary exploding whale news report was rebroadcast not long ago, meaning that the best quality possible (given the age of the 8mm film) is now available for your whale-exploding pleasure. Read the rest
The Navy have been blasting the sea with louder than rock concert sounds, hunting for Red October. Apparently the U.S. Navy hasn't done enough to ensure its sonar technology isn't hurting whales tho. Regardless this decision being overturned, the Navy had already planned to phase out much of the harmful sound.
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“The Court of Appeals understood that the Navy can do more to reduce the risk of its powerful long-range sonar, especially in the vast reaches of the ocean where too little is known,” Michael Jasny of the National Resource Defense Council, one of several organizations behind suit, said in a statement. “Ignorance is no excuse for inaction where commonsense safeguards recommended by the government’s own scientists can prevent avoidable harm.”
The court’s ruling will send both parties back to a district court for further consideration. But time may well run out on the NMFS’s decision anyway; it expires in 2017. The Navy has already agreed to limit its use of sonar in certain locations starting in 2018. Soon, the only waves in the ocean will be the natural ones made of water, not man-made ones that come from sound.
Robyn Malcolm captured this wonderful photo of a fur seal surfing on a humpback whale off Eden, Australia.
"We'd seen some amazing whales coming out of the water, everything was happening so quickly," Malcolm told the Sydney Morning Herald. "And it was when I went back through the photos that I realised I had actually captured the seal on top of the whale."
Geoff Ross, a whale expert at New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service said the only other time he'd heard of this happening is when a seal was attempting to escape an orca. Read the rest
Humpback whales doing what they do, off Moss Landing, California. They kayakers were fine. From the YouTube post:
On our 08:00 am Sanctuary Cruises whale tour, just outside the harbor in Moss Landing, two kayakers on a tandam kayak were almost crushed to death by a massive, near full-size humpback whale. We stopped to see a large aggregation of humpbacks feeding and carrying on with random acts of hijinks. There were also a lot of kayakers right in the middle of it all. Humpbacks were coming up next to and in the middle of many kayakers. It was amusing. It's all fun and games until someone gets jumped on. The next thing we knew, this thing launched right on top of these two kayakers. That was heavy. The video was shot by Sanctuary Cruises passenger Larry Plants.
More: "Humpback whale breaches on top of kayakers in Moss Landing" (KSBW)
Photographer Mark Carwardine got this lovely drone footage of a pod of gray whales frolicking off the coast of Baja California. Unfortunately, the boaters then approach and touch the whales. Read the rest