Scientists Make First Ever Recorded Conversation They Have With A Humpback Whale

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In a groundbreaking scientific endeavor, marine biologists achieved a remarkable feat: engaging in a dialogue with a humpback while, pushing the boundaries of interspecies cooperation and understanding to unprecedented levels.

This extraordinary interaction occurred with an adult female humpback whale named Twain, residing in the waters of Southeast Alaska, amidst a group of her fellow whales.

The pivotal moment began with the researchers playing a recording of a distinctive humpback whale call known as the “whup/throp” call, which had been captured by members of the same whale group the day prior.

Uncertain whether the calls originated from Twain herself or were part of an exchange between multiple whales, the team embarked on a two-day trial to ascertain the social acceptability of the recorded whup calls.


To their astonishment, Twain responded positively to the playback of the whup calls, indicating her willingness to engage in communication. She separated from her whale companions and embarked on a series of interactions with the researchers and their vessel, exhibiting phases of engagement, agitation, and disengagement.

During this sequence, Twain emitted responsive calls, circled the boat multiple times, and alternated between surfacing and diving before gradually leaving.

The researchers conducted acoustic analysis on Twain’s whup calls from both day 1 and day 2, focusing on spectral and temporal features, particularly the inter-call interval. This interval, measured as the time difference between the offset of the preceding calls and the onset of the subsequent call, served as a metric for assessing both arousal and valence, providing insights into the emotional dynamics of the interaction.

The findings revealed significant variation in Twain’s calling behavior, suggesting fluctuation in excitement or arousal levels throughout the exchange.

One of the researchers, Brenda McCowan, told the BBC, “After playing the contact call three times, we got this huge response. Then, to keep the animal engaged, I started trying to match the latency of her calls to our calls. So, if she waited 10 seconds, I waited 10 seconds. We ended up matching each other. We did this 36 times over a 20-minute period.”


The results showed that Twain’s calling patterns changed a lot during the interaction, hinting that her excitement or arousal levels were going up and down. Interestingly, her calls were shorter when she was actively involved, like when she circled the boat and blew air through her blowhole, compared to when she was leaving or feeling agitated.

According to the report in BBC, humpback whale songs believed to be some of the most intricate in the entire animal kingdom.

An important aspect of the entire experiment was that the results were assessed impartially, with independent observers who were not informed about the experiment’s details reporting on the whale’s surface behavior and respiratory activity.

See what transpired between Twain and the researchers in the video below:

 

 

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