Mar
27
2006

Whale speak


Humpback Whale: A Humpback Whale dives beneath the surface Courtesy NOAA

Scientists Ryuji Suzuki, John Buck, and Peter Tyack used information theory to prove that humpback whale songs have syntax--rules that govern the structure of language.

Like humans, the whales use a hierarchy of communication: they make sounds to build phrases that they can combine in different ways to create songs that last for hours.

The scientists wrote a computer program that breaks down the elements of the whales' songs (moans, cries, and chirps) and assigns a symbol to each one. Then they analyzed the structure of the songs.

Suzuki says,

"Information theory was the right choice because it allows one to study the structure of humpback songs without knowing what they mean."

Sight and smell are limited in marine environments, so sea mammals often use sound to communicate. During the humpback whale breeding season, all the males in a population sing the same song. And the song evolves over time.

Suzuki says,

"Humpback songs are not like human language, but elements of language are seen in their songs."

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I heart whales

posted on Wed, 03/29/2006 - 11:48am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Whale's are pretty.

posted on Wed, 03/29/2006 - 2:51pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I think that whales like to sing because it's fun.

posted on Fri, 03/31/2006 - 8:41pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I think that whales like to sing because they think they are good at it and they want to be in a musical.

posted on Fri, 03/31/2006 - 8:41pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

singing is fun, and that's why whales like to do it!!

posted on Fri, 03/31/2006 - 8:42pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Whales sing to communicate with each other. They sing to find a mate or to tell others that there is food around and where to find it, and they sing about friendship for company. Sometimes they just sing for fun.
-Nicole W, Age 13

posted on Sun, 04/02/2006 - 11:49am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

This is a very neat and interesting page. I've learned alot from it.

posted on Mon, 04/03/2006 - 1:29pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

What exactly do they eat?

posted on Tue, 04/04/2006 - 11:11am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

small fishes :)

posted on Wed, 04/05/2006 - 4:26am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I think whales sing because they want to mate or they are ready to mate. When I was watching and informational movie on whales the only time I heard them sing was when they wanted to mate. They kept singing songs until they found a partner. Then they went into the breeding process.

posted on Sat, 04/08/2006 - 8:22pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

i think that whales sing becaues they are lonely and want to find someone to talk to.

posted on Sun, 04/09/2006 - 11:04am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I think Whales sing because they can and like to do it for fun.

posted on Sun, 04/09/2006 - 5:46pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

whales rock!! i love whales!! go whales!!

posted on Mon, 04/24/2006 - 9:45am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

whales are soooooooooooooooooooooooooooo beaustiful. they go blubb blubb and eats fishes in there big tummy...... yummy. i'm a whale

posted on Mon, 04/24/2006 - 9:50am
majicbeans's picture
majicbeans says:

The whales dont really communicate xcept when they are angery, When they are chasing the whale that is being offencive. One says please dont eat me, And the other is saying Next time dont get me angery at you while it is trying to eat of that ones tail fin.
Kinda like when you put 2beta fish inside the same fish bowl. Or when damsil fish dont got enough buddys to play with.

They dont have conversations, trade words, or even understand another. But find another trust worthy I bet.

posted on Fri, 05/12/2006 - 3:18pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

New research suggests that starlings can use basic grammar, and that putty-nosed monkeys can combine sounds to mean different things.

Maybe there's a whole world of conversation going on out there!

posted on Thu, 05/18/2006 - 4:25pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

Here's a fun thing.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare, an animal rights group, is hosting a contest: Use their "Whale Remix music masher" to "mix" your own whale song. When you're done, you can save your masterpiece and submit it. The contest winner gets a new iPod. (You have to enter by June 11.)

Decide for yourself about the politics of whaling, but check out the website. It's fun!

posted on Wed, 05/31/2006 - 8:01pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

i think that is very interesting. i would of nenver thought to compare the human language with the sounds the whales make!!

posted on Wed, 06/14/2006 - 1:26pm
pappy boo's picture
pappy boo says:

whales are awesome creatures the can be shown who thy are by there blow holes.
Answer this question... What are whales?
1.Carnivore,2.Hebovore, or a 3.Omnavore?
tell me by the next 5 min.

posted on Fri, 11/17/2006 - 7:21pm

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