Understanding How Whales Communicate

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Understanding How Whales Communicate
By Sophie Putka Jul 7, 2021 5:00 AM.

Quote:One remarkable observation is that whales don’t seem to trade off or take turns vocalizing, like humans do in conversation. They often make sounds together, in a duet of sorts. Schnöller says he has also observed, in some of the recordings, that the beginning of some whale sounds start off random and then get more specific, almost as if the song builds up to a more coherent communication.

Quote:Schnöller also isn’t so interested in comparing whale communication with human language. In fact, he says, it could be that what whales are conveying is more advanced than what we could ever imagine. Maybe, he says, it could even take us down a notch as the self-declared top of Earth’s pecking order. “I don't think we need to understand it,” Schnöller says. “Even if we prove that there is something we cannot understand, and it's so crazy, efficient and complex that we could put ourselves a bit lower on the scale, this effect would open the door to something huge.”
(This post was last modified: 2021-07-08, 10:37 AM by Laird.)
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(2021-07-08, 10:37 AM)Laird Wrote: Maybe, he says, it could even take us down a notch as the self-declared top of Earth’s pecking order.


I'm a huge whale fan, but this sentence comes off to me as sensational; purely so.  I guess if he'd defined the criteria he's using to rank the pecking order it might have been more helpful. Wink
(2021-07-08, 10:37 AM)Laird Wrote: Understanding How Whales Communicate
By Sophie Putka Jul 7, 2021 5:00 AM.

Whatever it is that whales communicate, it seems unlikely that it relates much to human language. Human language is specialized to be able to refer to and describe specific manipulations of complex human inventions, and natural objects. There are no whale inventions of tools, because of their seawater environment and lack of hands and arms, no fire, no metals, etc. Objects in the whale world are limited to the water itself, different species of fish and cephalopods, the seabottom, and they themselves and their bodies, and  visible parts of these whale bodies and other animals. 

It would seem that consequently their "language" is probably rather impoverished compared to human languages, except in the expression and communication of simple warnings and announcements and states of emotion, with nothing in the way of abstractions. Mathematics would be very limited, and there would be no literature except perhaps short stories committed to memory since with them there is no writing, printing, etc. 

In other words there is probably a rather static "whale society" since there is no means for the whales to over long term time accumulate information about the world and transmit it in lasting form outside of memory, to the next generation and so forth. It would seem that because of all these factors the whales' "knowledge" of the world would have to be rather simple and very limited compared to humans. That would have to be deeply reflected in their means of communication and whatever could be termed their "language".
(This post was last modified: 2021-07-09, 08:29 PM by nbtruthman.)
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  • Valmar
Maybe whales have psychic abilities or clairvoyance? Perhaps they conduct seances and commune with the dead? Or maybe they make up poetry and songs of love and of joy and sadness. Communication need not be limited to a bare description of the environment.

I was reminded of a description in a Lyall Watson book of a whale, washed up on the beach of a small Indonesian island. The villagers try to use their physical strength to help refloat the whale at the next high tide. Gradually their efforts fail, they give up the attempt, the whale is left, still alive, high above the water. Having abandoned the struggle, just one person remained. The girl Tia, a kind of shaman and dancer, was keeping the whale company as it breathed its last. She was singing to it, she had understood what the others had not, what still remained to be done, her singing the only way she knew to connect with this fellow-creature during its passing.

Gifts of Unknown Things
Lyall Watson Wrote:p79
I wandered along the shore that morning, turning over driftwood, rooting in patches of stranded weed, and tuning in to the dismal cosmic hiss in empty shells. My eyes were on the ground, my world restricted to the sand beneath my feet, so I didn't see what was at the end of the beach until I was nearly there.

It was almost too big to see.

More than thirty feet long and taller than I, a huge, sleek, blue-grey mound with a series of humps and ridges tapering away to a flattened tail.

A sperm whale!

Still alive, but not alone. Tia was there with it.

As I ran towards them, the whale heaved and blew a hoarse breath, struggling to fill its lungs against the unaccustomed weight of the huge body on land.


Lyall Watson Wrote:p82

The whale was now high and dry. His smooth skin was beginning to patch and blur, turning dark in the sun.

All through the morning, Tia and I carried up water in coconut shells to pour over his back in an attempt to keep him cool. It seemed to help, the eyes that followed us were less alarmed. Despite the imam's warning, a number of the villagers came over the hill to watch, and the children helped form a chain of water-bearers that kept a constant stream running off his skin.

By midafternoon the tide was lapping again at his right flipper, but even when it reached its peak, the water was no more than two feet deep around the body.

Lyall Watson Wrote:p83-84

By the time I returned it was well after dark, and the moon was coming up behind me and I could see everything very clearly.

I was calm now, but filled with hopeless sorrow like a doctor forced to watch a patient die for lack of the appropriate vaccine.

The whale was abandoned again by the tide, and by all the people except Tia, who knelt on the sand beside the massive head and gently stroked his skin. She was singing to him. Singing one of the soft, sad songs in the old language. A song of friends long dead and times now past, of children grown and gone. A sound like a mother's sigh.

I couldn't understand the words any more than the whale could, but there was no mistaking the meaning. She was keeping him company in the dark hours of his long and lonely death. Sitting in for the other whales who, if he had been dying in the deeps, would have borne him to the surface on their fins, helping him to breathe and see, easing his passage with their sympathy and song.

This child, in her innocence, was doing the proper thing.

I, in my rage and futility, and Marduk in his righteous propriety, had missed the point altogether. So bound up in the petty intricacies of our politics and technology, we couldn't see that all the situation required was compassion.

Not how to move the whale, or how to move the people; but how to be kind and to keep in touch. A way of reaching out in empathy to the biggest brain on the planet.

I hung back in the shadows and watched them for a while, a child and a whale in communion.

When the song was over, she started another, a popular local ballad about unrequited love, and when I left she was leaning with her shoulder against the whale's cheek, telling him in great detail about the mud-skipping fish that lived in the mangroves on the lagoon.

He died during the night.

I came back at dawn to find Tia asleep on the sand. I carried her back to the house of Abu, where she slept through that day and all the following night.
(This post was last modified: 2021-07-12, 12:28 PM by Typoz.)
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(2021-07-09, 08:24 PM)nbtruthman Wrote: Whatever it is that whales communicate, it seems unlikely that it relates much to human language. Human language is specialized to be able to refer to and describe specific manipulations of complex human inventions, and natural objects. There are no whale inventions of tools, because of their seawater environment and lack of hands and arms, no fire, no metals, etc. Objects in the whale world are limited to the water itself, different species of fish and cephalopods, the seabottom, and they themselves and their bodies, and  visible parts of these whale bodies and other animals. 

It would seem that consequently their "language" is probably rather impoverished compared to human languages, except in the expression and communication of simple warnings and announcements and states of emotion, with nothing in the way of abstractions. Mathematics would be very limited, and there would be no literature except perhaps short stories committed to memory since with them there is no writing, printing, etc. 

In other words there is probably a rather static "whale society" since there is no means for the whales to over long term time accumulate information about the world and transmit it in lasting form outside of memory, to the next generation and so forth. It would seem that because of all these factors the whales' "knowledge" of the world would have to be rather simple and very limited compared to humans. That would have to be deeply reflected in their means of communication and whatever could be termed their "language".

I don't know, that seems a bit shallow. I mean humans didn't have much in the way of complex inventions until very recently in evolutionary history, and yet our language and brains have proved adequate to discuss maths and science and metaphysical
ideas. I guess dolphins are an easier species to experiment with:

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/scien...37791.html

Note in particular from that that the two dolphins in that study took turns to 'speak', and I must admit I sometimes butt in Smile

We have a lot of sheep on the hills round here, and I have noticed that they seem to engage in an altrnating 'conversation' of calls.
(This post was last modified: 2021-07-12, 05:00 PM by David001.)
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