Today saw the launch of a website I have been working on for the past few months: Whale FM. This project is attempting to crowd source the work of pairing up more than 16,000 unique whale calls. The sound shave been recorded by various teams around the world and chopped up into distinct calls – think of them like words – of whale communication.
On the site, you listen to sounds and then try to find the best match from a selection the computer has selected from the catalogue. We aim to build up a large web of whale communication, marking sounds which are alike and then use this map to decode what whales are saying. It’s a long way from my usual work in astrophysics!
The calls currently featured on the site come from Killer Whales and Pilot Whales (both actually types of dolphin!) and were recorded using either microphones underwater, or using suction-cup tags that are attached briefly to whales as they swim past teams of marine biologists.
The task will help us understand how whales communicate the location of food for example, or danger. Previous studies have shown that different pods of whales have different dialects or accents – much like people do! The work produced by Whale FM will also further our understanding in this area.