Recent findings suggest that, not only do different codas mean different things, but that whales can also tell which member of their community is speaking based on the sound properties of the codas. Just as we can tell our friends apart by the sounds of their voices and the way they pronounce their words, different sperm whales make the same pattern of clicks, but with different accents.
Caribbean and Pacific whales have different repertoires of codas, like a regional dialect, but the “Five Regular” call—a pattern of five evenly spaced clicks— is thought to have the universal function of individual identity because it is used by sperm whales worldwide.
These discoveries were recently published in the journal Animal Behaviour, in an article authored by University of St. Andrews PhD student Ricardo Antunes, Dal alumnus Tyler Schulz, Mr. Gero, Dal professor Dr. Hal Whitehead, and St. Andrews faculty members Dr. Jonathan Gordon and Dr. Luke Rendell.
Mr. Gero and Dr. Whitehead explain that the sperm whale’s biggest threat is human pollution. Not only do humans introduce toxins into the ocean, but they also generate harmful sound pollution. Increased shipping traffic, underwater explosions caused by searching for oil, and military sonar all contribute to ocean noise that masks communication between whales. “No one wants to live in a rock concert,” says Mr. Gero, adding that noise pollution is especially troublesome in the ocean because “it is a totally different sensory world.” The sperm whales can dive to depths of over 1000 metres and depend on sound for communication and navigation in the pitch black of the deep water.
The Dominica Sperm Whale Project hopes to understand more about sperm whale society because, as Mr. Gero says, “it is infuriating that we know more about the moon than the oceans.” He hopes to communicate a better understanding of life in the oceans to people by using these beautiful whales as examples, and by placing an emphasis on “how similar their lives actually are to ours.”
The whales live in matriarchal social units composed of mothers, daughters, and grandmothers. Once males reach adolescence, they are ostracized from the group and travel towards the poles until they are ready to breed. Consequently, little is known about the males, but the roles of females in relation to their young have been studied extensively by Mr. Gero and Dr. Whitehead. Female whales will baby-sit each other’s offspring while mothers are diving, forming a strong community that revolves around the upbringing of calves. “They are nomadic,” explains Dr. Whitehead, “so the most important things in their lives are each other.”
Dr. Whitehead enjoys researching sperm whales because of their “fascinating and complex social lives.” He hopes the Dominica Sperm Whale Project will be able to trace how whale communities change through time.
Part of Mr. Gero’s PhD includes studying how calves acquire their dialect. Baby sperm whales babble at first, and Mr. Gero is interested in discovering how the babies’ diversity of calls gets narrowed down to the family repertoire.
“One of the most exciting parts [of returning to Dominica] is to go down and see who’s around,” says Mr. Gero, admitting that he has “become attached to the individual whales.” For the first time, sperm whales can be studied as individuals within families, with such lovable nicknames as “Pinchy” and “Fingers”. The family that includes these two whales is recognized as “the best studied social unit of sperm whales in the world.”
Mr. Gero would like to continue working with the same groups of whales because a long-term project will offer a better understanding of their social developments. He “feels a responsibility to speak on [the whales’] behalf” and hopes to move toward conservation, while still remaining in the field of biology.
Katie McDonald | Newswise Science News
Researchers uncover protein-based “cancer signature”
05.12.2016 | Universität Basel
The Nagoya Protocol Creates Disadvantages for Many Countries when Applied to Microorganisms
05.12.2016 | Leibniz-Institut DSMZ-Deutsche Sammlung von Mikroorganismen und Zellkulturen GmbH
Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water
In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
05.12.2016 | Earth Sciences
05.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy
05.12.2016 | Life Sciences