Caribbean Sperm Whales Have an Accent

Source: Hakai Magazine/Geoffrey Giller - February 12, 2016 in Featured, Science/Tech

Caribbean Sperm Whales Have an Accent
Photo: NOAA

If you want to know where someone comes from, you might listen to how they speak. Their accent or use of particular words may give you clues to their provenance. As it turns out, the same is true for whales. In a new study, scientists show how sperm whales from the Caribbean share a distinct call that whales from elsewhere in the world don’t make. And that’s not all: besides saying where they’re from, these whales also have specific calls for their family units, and even unique calls for themselves—names, of a sort.

Shane Gero, the lead author of the study and a research fellow at Aarhus University in Denmark, has been recording sperm whale calls in the Caribbean for more than a decade. Gero and his colleagues had previously suggested that whales may have individual calls, but that earlier work only involved a few whales. They also knew that whales in the Caribbean sounded different from Pacific sperm whales. Now, Gero is back with nearly 4,000 sperm whale calls recorded between 2005 and 2010. The large number of recordings in this study confirmed the existence of individual calls and showed that the Caribbean whales all share a call.

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Hakai Magazine explores science, society, and the environment from a coastal perspective. The magazine is part of the Tula Foundation and Hakai Institute family. While proudly independent, Hakai Magazine shares the same philosophies as the Tula Foundation, celebrating exploration, discovery, and science. The name Hakai is inspired by the Hakai Lúxvbálís Conservancy, the largest protected marine area on the west coast of Canada, located about 400 kilometers north of Vancouver.

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