Scientists Ask Citizens to Help Decode Whale Conversation

Paging Dr. Dolittle. We need a whale of a translation. Photo: Andrew Brigmond

Think you could speak whale? Scientists are asking citizens to listen in on the conversations of pilot and killer whales to decipher their language and dialects.

The project, hosted by Scientific American, is called Whale FM and asks listeners to match whale calls to improve our understanding of their language. To compare the calls, each is accompanied by a visual mapping out the sound’s shape.

Pilot and killer whales, which are technically large dolphins, have a range of songs and calls. Like close friends who have a secret language, tight-knit whale pods have distinct dialects for communicating with each other.

Using the matches made at Whale FM, scientists will categorize groups of calls and combine them with behavioral and location data to work out what whales are saying. The data can also help scientists learn how human activity—such as military sonar, oil surveys, or construction—affects whales. So, put your listening skills to the test, get out your headphones, and give it a try!

If you’re looking for other cool citizen science projects online, visit Zooniverse’s time travelling climate project, which lets you join the crew of a historic ship, virtually follow the course, and use the ship log’s to help build climate models. You can also read up on citizen science for smart phones on the Perch, or join the ultimate citizen science project for birders, the Christmas Bird Count

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