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Sperm whale’s communication system similar to human language? | Lifestyle News


The largest toothed whales, sperm whales, communicate using bursts of clicking sounds — called codas — that sound a bit like Morse code. A new analysis of years of sperm whale vocalizations in the eastern Caribbean has found that their communication system is more sophisticated than previously known, showing a complex internal structure filled with a “vocal alphabet.” Researchers have identified similarities with aspects of other animal communication systems, and even human language.

Like all marine mammals, sperm whales are highly social animals, and their calls are an integral part of that. The new study has provided a fuller understanding of how these whales communicate. “The research shows that the expressiveness of sperm whale calls is much greater than previously thought,” said Pratyusha Sharma, an MIT doctoral student in robotics and machine learning and lead author of the study published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications.

“We don’t know yet what they are saying,” Sharma said. “We are studying the calls in their behavioral contexts to understand what sperm whales might be communicating about.” Sperm whales, which can reach about 60 feet (18 meters) in length, have the largest brain of any animal. They are deep divers, feeding on giant squid and other prey.

The researchers are part of the machine learning team of the CETI (Cetacean Translation Initiative) project. Using traditional statistical analysis and artificial intelligence, they examined calls from about 60 whales recorded by the Dominica Sperm Whale Project, a research program that has compiled a large trove of data on the species.

“Why would they exchange these codes? What information would they share?” asked study co-author Shane Gero, lead biologist on the CETI project and founder of the Dominica Sperm Whale Project, also affiliated with Carleton University in Canada.
“I think it’s likely that they use the coda to coordinate as a family and organize babysitting, foraging and defense,” Jero said.

The researchers found that differences in the number, rhythm, and rhythm of clicks produced different types of codes. Whales, among other things, changed the duration of the coda, sometimes adding an extra click at the end, like a suffix in human language.
“All of these different codes that we see were actually built by combining a relatively simple set of smaller pieces,” said study co-author Jacob Andreas, a professor of computer science at MIT and a member of the CETI project.

People combine sounds – which often correspond to letters of the alphabet – to produce words that carry meaning, and then produce sequences of words to create sentences to convey more complex meanings. For people, “there are two levels of combination,” Sharma said. The lowest level is the sounds for words. The top level is words to sentences.

Sperm whales also use a combination of two levels of features to form codes, and the codes are then sequenced together as the whales communicate, Sharma said. The lower level is like the letters of the alphabet, Sharma said.
“Each communication system is tailored to the environment and animal community in which it evolved,” Sharma added.

The communication system used by sperm whales, for example, is different from the “songs” of humpback whales – and different, in this respect, from the whistles, chirps, chirps, and other assorted sounds made by different animals.

“Yes, human language is unique in many ways,” Giroux said. “But I suspect we will find many patterns, structures and aspects thought to be unique to humans in other species, including whales, as science advances – and perhaps also features and aspects of animal communication that humans do not have.” If scientists can decipher the meaning of what sperm whales are “saying,” should people try to communicate with them?

“I think there’s a lot of research we have to do before we know if trying to communicate with them is a good idea, or even have an idea if it’s even possible,” Andreas said.

“At the same time, I’m optimistic that we’ll be able to learn more about what information is actually encoded in these vocalizations that we listen to, and what kind of information is in these clicks and these codas, as we begin to understand the behavioral context in which this happens,” Andreas added. .
Different species of whales that live in Earth’s oceans use different types of sounds to communicate.



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