Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive! - Vol. XIII No. 4 - October 2004


News Items


Learning From Whales: Education, Inspiration and Action is the theme of the Ninth International Conference of the American Cetacean Society, aboard the legendary Queen Mary in Long Beach, California from 12-14 November. As with previous meetings, ACS is expected to combine topical and important subjects presented by experts, a show of professional art, a photographic competition, and a fun time for everyone. For full details please see http://www.acsonline.org/, but hurry to beat discounted registration deadlines.

The North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium's Annual Meeting will be held on 3-4 November, 2004 at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, New Bedford, Massachusetts. The Consortium is an informal gathering of scientists, fishermen, agencies, and interested advocates, sharing the most current information about one of the world's most endangered great whales, and the many efforts being made to save them. If about 350 people show up they will outnumber the North Atlantic's right whale population! For more information contact Consortium Secretary Heather Pettis at hpettis@neaq.org or 617-226-2144.

Two of the three species of right whales hover on the brink of extinction. Such an enormous effort has been made to research right whales, with the best of intentions, that some experts are concerned that the research itself may be causing problems, or that at least there should be an overview of the current situation. For example, there are increasing concerns for long term effects from some data or locator tags that are attached to the whales for life. It is possible that NMFS soon will announce a hold on all future right whale research permits until an Environmental Impact Statement is complete. CSI will applaud this precautionary move, and support the increasingly sophisticated methods of gathering non-invasive information.

The North Pacific Right Whale may be even closer to extinction that the Atlantic's species. Fewer than 20 have been seen in the past 100 years, and only 14 have been photographed for identification. In August two also were sampled with biopsy darts and tagged to allow satellite tracking. Nine scientists with the US National Marine Mammal Laboratory and the Greenland Institute for Natural Resources were searching an area in the Bering Sea where almost all sightings have been made, called the "right whale box". As an indicator of how good modern acoustical gear is, and how far away whales might hear each other, after the whales were first heard the ship traveled over 55 miles before reaching the pair. Satellite tags were fixed to the whales through skin into blubber. If the tags transmit signals long enough the species' use of other feeding areas might be discovered, along with migratory routes and wintering areas. The tags may permit the whales to be tracked for months, with every downlinked data point a revelation for science. The web sites http://nmml.afsc.noaa.gov/CetaceanAssessment/right/righttagging04.htm or http://www.fakr.noaa.gov/newsreleases/rightwhale091304.htm will provide more information, including updated tracks of the tagged whales.

No one can dispute that these tags may help us to learn why the species may be slipping into extinction, but based on all observations so far, there are so few North Pacific right whales that a population estimate is impossible; they redefine "extremely rare and endangered". Assuming that each individual whale may be vital to the species' survival, how does one balance the value of research that may allow science to understand and save them, with the potential for the research itself doing harm to these few remaining whales? This is what the EIS would be trying to determine.

Tagged North Pacific right whale

Tagged North Pacific right whale in the Bering Sea in August, 2004.
(Photo: John Durban, NMML)

As an animal welfare organization CSI must question whether it was ethical to tag these whales. Our question has nothing to do with the scientific value from the information the tags may provide. It has to do only with the potential that they may suffer, or lose some biological capacity, because of the tags. When the question cannot be answered, as here, we believe that science should be done with a maximum of caution. In this case it was not.

Maui dolphins offer a similar ethical question about tagging individuals from an extremely vulnerable population. About 100 Maui dolphins survive, slipping slowly towards extinction as fishing gear entanglements continue. They are a form of New Zealand's Hector's dolphin given a Maori name to support efforts to save them. Because efforts to close enough areas to net fishing have failed in the face of economic and political concerns, the "solution" is to tag Maui dolphins to locate them and their preferred habitats, and work on nets there. Because there are so few Maui dolphins this solution was tested a few months ago, with dorsal fin tags attached to three of the more numerous (expendable?) Hector's dolphins. By now the tags should have fallen off, and the experts should know if any impacts have been imposed on those three dolphins. But the Department of Conservation has been silent, refusing even to answer questions about the way the project was permitted and run. Posted information on the project is far out of date, and the rumor is that the three test dolphins can't even be located.

One concern CSI and many others have is that the bolts holding the tags in place don't corrode and fail at the same time. Will a tag hang by the remaining bolt and tear up the dorsal fin as it flaps in the water streaming by the fin? Another concern is that the original bolt holes or later damage may sever some blood vessels in the dorsal fin critical to the fin's function as a radiator of excess heat. When a dolphin swims fast, as in hunting or fleeing, enough internal heat is generated so that the reproductive organs might get warm enough to lose function. An automated shunt allows blood cooled by passing through the dorsal fin radiator to pass around the reproductive organs, cooling them as well. If one bolt hole may stop one Maui dolphin from reproducing, in a population where every calf is crucial, is the risk worth it? Given the unknowns, is it ethical to try? With many questions hanging like flailing tags, will DoC still allow tags on the Maui dolphins?

Controlled Exposure Experiments (CEE) are another current theater of ethical dilemmas. They can be both benign and useful, for example, in finding out what right whales may do when they hear a ship, or for trying to lure a wayward humpback back to deep water. If CEEs permit science to understand what noise means or does to a cetacean, we're all concerned about noise, and the results may tell us how to alter the noise to make less impact, what's wrong with CEE's? That depends.

For example, the U.S. Navy is well aware that midrange sonars cause some beaked whales to die, through a complicated chain of events that seems to be activated when the sonar noise startles the whales into altering their normal dive profiles. From the whales' deaths experts have documented that these whales evolved to live on the edge of what humans call the bends. They have done it this way for longer than humans have been around, but some sonars now push some whales over the edge. The Navy may fund a CEE to research how the sonars affect beaked whales. This would not be easy, first as the whale would have to be artificially cycled through many severe pressure changes to achieve enough tissue saturation to equal what may be their normal foraging physiology. If the Navy doesn't have chambers that could do this they can afford to build one.

The purpose would be to document what the whale does, and what happens inside the whale after it is ensonified. Think rock concert in a closet. Results may require killing and cutting the animal up to see what the insides look like but, even if more benign scans are used, what happens to the whale in the end? And what is the likely end anyway? The U.S. Navy and perhaps others seem to have made a commitment to alter many of the ways they use sonar, but in the end they will accept the threat to whales as collateral damage necessary to get the mission accomplished.

CSI is absolutely certain that it is unethical to capture a beaked whale, put it in a controlled situation and bombard it with a particular noise. The ends do not justify the means. To CSI the potential for harming the whale has greater value than the reason for the experiment, which runs us headlong into the great walls of economics and military mission. Neither is guided by ethics, at least in the common human meaning of the concept. We're watching for CEE's that harm and exploit, we expect to have a lot of battles, but we have a lot of help.

Invasive data tags deserve mention whenever ethics are discussed. They come in many forms with many purposes, and there are hundreds of cetaceans swimming around right now with invasive tags in them. Invasive tags are attached in some way into the skin, blubber and even tissue of cetaceans. When the tag's purpose has been achieved the researchers may have a wonderful slew of data to work with, and science has been greatly advanced by some of it. But the dead tag stays in the whale for life. Whatever antibiotics were there at first are long gone, and tissue flexing and tag antennae vibrations may cause the tag to migrate in or out, or at least move enough to maintain invasive channels deep into the animal.

Is this a problem for the cetacean? No one knows. Perhaps in support of the beliefs that support invasive research, there is precious little being done to prove when and how tags are harmful. Oddly, while scientists demand proofs of almost everything in their craft, they subsist on the self-serving beliefs that these invasive tags do no significant harm. Watch out for that word "significant". Some scientists use it to mean a population level catastrophe. We use it to mean something significant to the individual. We'll happily accept proof that invasive tags do not harm; we have a lot of other things to turn our attention to.

CSI recently suggested some solutions to this important unknown, in comments we made to a current permit application. First, all permits for invasive tagging should ensure that the project budgets some time and money to documenting what happens to the tagged animal after the tag dies, to help determine the impact. Second, research submitted for publication should be required to include this impact data, and enough information so that others can learn what to do, and not to do, to advance tagging techniques in a uniform manner. Third, CSI suggested that all researchers tagging whales make their Photo ID images available publically, perhaps on dedicated web sites. Instead of the current, primitive, opportunistic method where one researcher asks another if a certain whale was tagged, everyone with a good photograph and an interest could participate. Suppose someone on a sailboat photographs a whale with a lump, or a dolphin with a tag? They should be able to at least look on this web site for "their" animal by region, date, and species. If there seems to be a match, they should be told to record appropriate data for "their" whale, and to submit the photo and data to a certain researcher. In time this expansion of effort could answer the question: do tags cause harm?

Perhaps you think that CSI is wrong to put a whale or dolphin ahead of specific research objectives, particularly as we're not scientific experts. We make no excuse for our animal welfare concerns where there are legitimate questions about suffering. We will always demand that ethics constrain science, not the other way around.

"Marine Attractions: Below The Surface", is a superb five-part review of the cetacean captivity industry. South Florida's Sun-Sentinel reporter Sally Kestin has written an authoritative and enlightened resource for anyone with positive illusions about the industry. The Sun Sentinel's policy prevents CSI from posting the articles on our web site for international public review, but they may still be available at http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/sfl-dolphins-capturesdec31.story/. We would be pleased to send a printed or downloadable version to anyone who asks. Following the articles the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society was joined by many organizations, including CSI, in a June "Statement on Reform of Public Display in the United States" that, while a little technical, reviews the problems and positions we all continue to work so hard on. Bear in mind that the captivity industry is fighting these points in every way that they can:

We believe that: Marine mammals are a public trust, and are not the private property of any facility or economic interest; Public Display under the MMPA is an `exception' to the moratorium on `take', and as such, Public Display is a privilege, not a right; The general public is entitled to oversight and input into any decision regarding the disposition of a marine mammal, e.g., export, import, transfer, sale or loan; The educational value of interactive programs is highly debatable, and rather than benefiting marine mammal conservation, may actually be detrimental to the welfare and conservation of wild marine mammals; The transfer, exchange, purchase and export of dolphins from and into US facilities should be held to the highest standards and scrutiny, considering the burgeoning interest in and development of public display facilities, especially swim-with-the-dolphin programs, throughout the globe.

We recommend that: Reinstatement of the permit requirement for exporting a marine mammal from the United States, while maintaining the comity process, and with the inclusion of onsite inspections of receiving foreign facilities; Prohibition of wild captures of marine mammals for public display purposes; Prohibition of traveling exhibits of marine mammals; Prohibition of dolphin petting and feeding pools; Immediate reinstatement of enforcement of swim-with-the-dolphin regulations; Development of a public display educational oversight committee under the auspices of the Marine Mammal Commission, or congressionally constituted; Reinstatement of the requirement that public display education and conservation programs be approved by the Secretary of Commerce, including periodic review of these educational programs as they develop and evolve; Shifting the `burden of proof' (of humane capture) from the regulatory agencies to the industry for any imports of animals captured from free-ranging populations; Return of primary jurisdictional oversight under the MMPA to NMFS and the USFWS; Broadening the Marine Mammal Inventory information requirement to include necropsy, injury and disease reports to provide a more accurate assessment of marine mammal health.

But that's heavy reading, and it doesn't reach the underlying problem, the people who buy the tickets that support the shows, simply for some minutes of entertainment. CSI accepts the responsibility to reach these people somehow, to make the cost of their exploitive pleasure clear. We know dolphins suffer to entertain. The people watching the show don't know that, or don't care. We need help to reach them. Any suggestions?

Graham Simpson, a naturalized U.S. citizen from South Africa now living in Reno, Nevada, is facing a $70,000 fine levied in August by the U.S. Treasury Department, for violating the trade embargo against Cuba. He had traveled to Cuba on a British passport to purchase six Cuban dolphins for $45,000 each for his display facilities in Anguilla and Antigua. Although the case took years, Simpson is still negotiating his fine. And he is still profiting from the dolphins, having sold his Anguilla business to Dolphin Discovery of Cancun, a company run by several Americans with six bases of operation across the Caribbean.

This case is a mere glimpse of the many illegal actions to profit from captive dolphins. The current rage is some kind of "swim-with" facility, with tourists spending up to $150 for a half hour in a pool with dolphins. A swim-with aberration is "dolphin assisted therapy" (DAT), where desperate people bring handicapped loved ones for a few expensive sessions with a dolphin in a pool, believing the hype that the "therapy" will provide healing. There has been no clinical proof of long term success with this method. It becomes even more heartless when poor people travel long distances to be healed by dolphins kept in portable pools, especially in Latin America. Cuba and Russia may be the largest current markets, selling dolphins worldwide for up to $70,000 each. This "success" is what motivated the Solomon Islands captures last year.

The dolphin-safe tuna label was strengthened in August by a U.S. District Court ruling that the U.S. Commerce Department's actions to weaken the 1990 Dolphin Protection Consumer Information Act must be overturned because it illegally ignored scientific evidence. The judge ordered a new rule that would prohibit the use of dolphin-safe labels on tuna caught by setting nets on dolphins.

The battle started when the Administration chose the last day of 2002 to alter the definition of "dolphin-safe tuna," allowing the label to be put on tuna harvested through chase and encirclement, which is known to kill dolphins. Ignoring ample scientific documentation, the Commerce Department's decision would have allowed tuna caught by this method to be labeled dolphin-safe. Although the Act's goal of zero mortality has never been achieved, yearly dolphin deaths resulting from tuna fishing in the Eastern Tropical Pacific have declined from approximately 100,000 a year to fewer than 2,000.

Luna is a solitary orca living in Nootka Sound, Canada. In 2001 the few people that knew of him kept it secret, from fears that a public onslaught would follow. Those few, mostly scientists, endured day after day of tough weather as they monitored him, until the news broke anyway and the public came with the better weather. Thanks to years of research that makes these orcas the best known in the world, Luna was identified as L98, a member of the fish-eating L1 pod, and the L2 matriline which includes his grandmother Grace (L2), his two uncles Gaia (L78) and Wavewalker (L88), his mother Splash (L67) and a new sibling, Aurora (L101). L-1 pod is part of the Southern Community J-clan of 86 orcas, made up of three pods, J1, K1 and L1. These are the whales assaulted by the captivity industry, which is responsible for the loss of an estimated 47 whales by capture or death, bringing J-clan down to 71 orcas by 1974. The population has grown, but its partial reliance on fish from human-polluted habitats has made these whales among the most toxic vertebrates on earth. Everyone hopes Luna wants to return to his family, but it's certain that his genes are needed there.

The assumption is that Luna went with his uncle, Orcan (L39), 200 miles north to Nootka Sound, and then Orcan died. Luna's been surviving well ever since on ample fish stocks. Local First Nations people, the Mowachaht-Muchalaht, believe that Luna, whom they call Tsu-xiit, embodies the spirit of Chief Ambrose Maquinna who died about when Luna was noticed. At that time, Luna was a yearling, but he is now a rambunctious five year old. From the time Luna's presence became public and the weather softened people came to see him, as predicted. Whatever he thinks of boats, it's clear to many that his antics sometimes border on disaster. Mariners were warned in every possible way to stay clear of him, but unable to outrun or outwit him, many found themselves being whalehandled anyway. Luna must like rudders, because he's disabled a few boats by breaking them.

It was first decided, mostly as a matter of public safety, to reunite Luna with his orca community by capturing, testing, and then trucking him to southern Vancouver Island waters for his release nearer to his kin. Springer's successful reuniting with her northern pod in 2002, with enormous fanfare, was a model example. Springer's travels with her family are now celebrated, particularly in August when her great aunt Yakat, A11, brought her family to Johnstone Strait for the first time this season.

Nootka Sound First Nations opposed the official plan, but offered a compromise in the form of a canoe follow intended to bring Luna to within acoustic range of his pod. That didn't work, but it did create a media blitz. After considerable discussion the Mowachaht-Muchalaht First Nation and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) agreed to establish a monitoring presence on the waters of Nootka Sound aimed at keeping boats away from Luna and assisting boaters in trouble. This is recognized as a temporary solution, and costs and weather may wear the effort down even more. It's still possible that another attempt to reunite Luna with L2 may be tried.

Most recently, as the weather skimmed off many pleasure boaters, the gillnet fishery has suffered this playful whale learning how to disable nets. Luckily, no one has been injured seriously and Luna has not been shot or entangled. Orcas are among the most social creatures on Earth, so Luna's assumed to be seeking attention, maybe even companionship. Everyone wishes his family would come calling, but as time passes, would he leap at the chance to join them, or stay solo? We have a lot to learn about orcas. For extensive and insightful information on Luna please see http://ReuniteLuna.com/.

Poco is one of the latest in a long line of wandering sub-adult belugas that have left their family groups, the closest to New England living year-round in the St. Lawrence River, Canada. One of the earliest modern records was a beluga photographed in the Cape Cod Canal in 1971, some have meandered all the way to New Jersey, and more recently, a beluga was seen in February 2001 near Wellfleet in Cape Cod Bay. Poco was first documented in September 2003, near a salmon aquaculture site in Canada. In February he showed up in New Brunswick. He ambled south, as only whales can, to Boston harbor by April and at various ports throughout the summer, playing with people, boats and frenzied media. Unlike other belugas that learn too late about propellers, Poco ended his summer with only minor cuts. Another solitary beluga was seen in Conception Bay, Newfoundland in late June, but has not been attracting attention since.

The Whale Stewardship Project (WSP), http://www.whalestewardship.org/, a not-for-profit organization in Canada, has been dedicated to studying these belugas since 1998. WSP advocates for all sociable, solitary cetaceans in North America, including the NW orca, Luna (see article). An additional resource for anyone wishing the history of the 53 solitary, sociable cetaceans known through 2003 is available from the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society web site, http://www.wdcs.org/.

While the New England Aquarium Marine Animal Rescue Team remains on short notice to help if Poco is found stranded, entangled or sick, he is gradually moving back north, having been seen in SE Maine by late summer. In his own way, for his own reasons, Poco was a wonderful ambassador for all cetaceans, leaving a wake of people who each felt and learned something unique. Many children will be sorry to see him go. But officials will not, as they know that most are injured by accidents, with boats or propellers, and several highly publicized interactive belugas have been killed intentionally.

How many others are out there? Many immature animals wander (think teenager), but these belugas are especially important for several reasons. They are hard to miss with their all-white color and their interactive nature with people and boats, so it is more likely that they will be noticed, reported and protected. It's vital to know if these belugas eventually try to return to their groups, because some populations are vulnerable and the genes of the wanderer may make a difference. But there's a larger reason: The St. Lawrence belugas, for example, have absorbed so many human toxins that, if they strand and die, they must be disposed of as toxic waste. It's speculative to suggest that Poco knew the danger, and was trying to escape, but suppose that the biological principle that populations expand ranges when resources become limiting has been adapted, because of human toxins, so that members of a population would be more likely to leave home ranges when the habitat was compromised by human impacts. How could they tell? It might be significant to know where these wanderers come from, to understand the motivation behind their solitary travels. If habitat degradation is a real factor every wanderer may be telling us something urgent about where they came from, as if we don't already have enough signals.

Humpback Whales Have Names is one working title for the latest creation of Dan Knaub, President of The Whale Video Company (http://www.whalevideo.com/), and a member of CSI's Board of Directors. Using images from his vast collection, Dan has assembled a unique sampler of familiar humpbacks and important whale facts, to introduce kids six and up to special humpback whales that thousands of whale watchers have seen in the Gulf of Maine. Each letter in the alphabet introduces a whale whose name begins with that letter, literally from Arrow to Zeppelin. Appropriate facts are presented on each page, such as Age, Baleen, Calf, Dining, etc. For further information please contact CSI.

The Whale Video Company videographers have recorded commercial whale watches from many ports in the Northeast US for many years, selling tapes of specific trips or the "Best of..." series. Dan's video collection of over 18,000 hours includes the most spectacular footage anywhere. He has donated special tapes such as "Salt and Friends" to be distributed to IWC Commissioners and other dignitaries, getting the message out that whales are special and deserve protection. The archival value of Dan's library is unmatched, prompting several projects, for example to convert the annotated video to DVD.

Beluga language? The prevailing belief today is that cetaceans and other non-humans don't have acoustic language. Sure, it's said, they communicate, but on a limited fashion compared to humans. But various creatures use tools, symbols, and dialects, various animal societies have shown culture and ceremony, and cetaceans come in many flavors. Right whales may only moan a little, but that has nothing to do with a beluga's potential repertoire.

The list of attributes unique to humans is shrinking, even against furious opposition. The opposition doesn't get any stronger than the current culture of cetology, which essentially believes that language is not a subject worthy of exploration, except under stifling constraints. One of the reasons why cetacean language research is an almost closed book may be that the technology and resources are not yet available, or diverted to easier questions. Accepting expertise and ideas from outside the field might help to solve this. A second reason may be an outdated but stubborn cultural reaction to what started in the 70's, the "Mind in the Waters" era, when the public first went wild about dolphins, and some wild ideas were believed absolutely. Cetology may have benefited from this surge, but tried to disengage from it to become a "real" science. That response culled the ideas and the people who supported them, and either shunned certain subjects or boxed them in with very constrained research. Cognition and language are unfortunate examples. Although the 70's are long gone it's still very difficult to get a serious paper published on cetacean cognition that thinks outside the box, and students are foolish to try to get a degree with such research. If cetacean language is not out there prove it, as with any other null hypothesis. To express certainty for over 30 years that there is no cetacean language, based on belief, is not scientifically defensible.

Let's step further out on the ledge: think of bats. About 60 years ago the legendary Donald Griffin carried a caged bat by an oscilloscope and happened to notice the screen go crazy with squiggles. Everyone soon understood that bats used sound frequencies humans couldn't hear, and within a few years dolphins and many other animals were found to use echolocation. Where would we be today without Griffin and that silently screaming bat? We now accept that the range of sensory perceptions of other animals extends far beyond what we experience. But we don't yet seem to accept the challenge of exploring other animals' merger of senses and communication far outside the human experience. We need open minds, innovative technology, and interdisciplinary help.

Think of a dinosaur, controlling an enormous body with a brain the size of a walnut. Think again of the bat, processing echoes on the fly with a pea-sized brain. Think of a sperm or orca whale, with a brain five times the size of yours. These realities prod the nagging question that's been around for decades: If bats and dinosaurs could do their thing with such tiny brains, why are some cetaceans' brains so large, apparently limited only by the physics of surviving inertial shocks?

Think of humans that need to communicate with each other but speak different languages. They develop what linguists call "pidgin", simple phrases with minimal grammar, and an ancient and worldwide human phenomenon. Deaf people also develop unique languages, as demonstrated by a now-famous school in Nicaragua, where the unique signs the children use have evolved in shortened generations. From examples of evolving sign and pidgin linguists have defined human language as discrete elements usable in different combinations, capable of breaking complex concepts into smaller components. OK, they've proved we're hardwired for words. But why do we demand that other animals do it as humans do? To put it another way, what are we afraid of? Fervent belief is the basis for most professional denials about non-human language. There aren't enough facts, because there hasn't been enough effort to study the potentials. It's way overdue, and belugas might be a good place to start.

Beluga

Beluga. Photo: William Rossiter

So what about belugas? Bioacousticians at Moscow's Shirshoff Institute analyzed beluga calls, and recently demonstrated that these whales employ at least 24 phonemes to compose "words" in what appears to be an expression of true language. OK, so you don't trust the Russians. Jim Nollman (http://www.interspecies.com/) notes that human language is overwhelmingly time-dependent. This paragraph could not be spoken in a second, but it would be understood if spoken at different frequencies. A very open-minded musician, Jim notes that "Belugas produce a dense, multilayered variety of calls that make use of an extremely broad band of frequencies, ten times wider than humans can physically hear, and yet vocalized in time spans as short as one hundredth of a second. They also appear to control the interference patterns across this wide frequency spectrum. Humans hear interference patterns (for one example) as the beats that occur while tuning one guitar string to another one. Cetacean echolocation both transmits and resolves as beats. If an echolocating species were to develop language, it would likely be based, not on time like human language, but on a symbolic derivation of these broadband beats."

Jim goes on to say "a beat language would probably convey its messages through sonic imaging or holograms as much as through phonemes and sentences as we humans have developed to fit our own sensual receptors." We can only guess what kind of information can be conveyed using a sophisticated beat structure, with some beluga calls so incredibly wide-frequency, with so many beats modulating at any single moment, that Jim describes "the potential content of a one-second whale call as containing an entire feature film's worth of information."

If you have a hard time picturing this, Mark Fischer (http://aguasonic.com/) has adapted wavelet graphing techniques to study cetacean calls, finding that some beats do modulate in frames of hundredths of a second. Take a look at that web site and let your mind loose. Here's just one of Mark's graphs of a beluga call to convey some of the complexity crammed in a very short time. Notice the circles.

Image of Beluga call

Image of beluga call.
Copyright Aquasonic.com

But this intriguing image is only a random sample of a call without context, without knowing what was happening around the whale when the sound was made, without a clue about the motivation for the call. To make real progress these two gifted people need high quality recordings of specific calls by individuals in specific contexts. They need help from the experts who can define those contexts. They need the funds to have a real computer churn numbers, and to put a broad team together in earnest. This is not about talking to belugas, but finding a way across an intellectual and cultural gap of our own making. We don't have to talk to belugas to learn something significant from the way they talk to each other. They've probably been making complex calls a lot longer than humans have had language, and it's about time we understood a little more about it. Any suggestions?


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