Crowdsourcing Experiment Aims To Decode Whale Song

Killer whale

The race is on to decode whale song and you can help. A global crowdsourcing experiment may finally be what is needed to unlock the mystery of just what whale song is all about.

Any “Citizen Scientists” who are interested can study about 15,000 recordings of calls by pilot whales and killer whales around the planet. Hopefully we can learn some new phrases, meanings and dialects. The Whale Project was launched today by Scientific American and the online citizen science organization The Zooniverse.

If you are interested, just visit whale.fm where you will be able to study and then compare sound wave patterns of calls made by whales in different pods and families around the world via spectrogram. The idea is to identify identical or similar sound wave patterns, and don’t worry, you will be able to play back each sound as you study it. Each sound recording is linked to a specific location in the sea, so scientists know which calls come from which specific families of whales and where.

Why not just use computers? It turns out that people are better at spotting similarities in complex spectrograms. The human brain excels at comparing images. Every matched group of sounds will be compared with the whales’ location and activities that the whales were involved in. They are hoping to discover a dialect at the least and if they get very lucky, perhaps different kinds of messages.

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