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Can a newborn whale’s first sounds be deciphered?

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What are sperm whales communicating with their morse code-like clicks, creaks, clangs, and chirps? Can we decode these codas with technological assistance?

To find out, professor and biologist David Gruber began Project CETI (Cetacean Translation Initiative), a non-profit organization that’s using “advanced machine learning and state-of-the-art robotics to listen to and translate the communication of sperm whales.”

Part one of their mission is to observe and record sperm whale sounds and corresponding behaviors. It was during their research in Dominica that the team recorded an unexpected moment: the birth of a sperm whale.

“We had, since early in the morning, been taking this two drone at a 45° angle. We heard very few clicks… We knew that there was something unusual happening just by their behavior, and we kind of knew to sit back and just watch.

“Then we saw this first sign of blood in the water. The first thought was, ‘Oh no! There’s some attack,’ and then there was this moment when this tiny little head pops up, and we all were like, ‘Okay, we’re watching a sperm whale being born.'”

A note for sensitive viewers: While most of the video is joyous, a few whaling photos from history are briefly shared just after 3m5s. More from Project Ceti’s site:

“We saw and recorded 11 whales work together to support the birth and lift the new baby whale out of the water to breathe. The team watched the whale calf being carried by these whales for hours so it could stay afloat and breathe since its tail was still furled. Later the sperm whales were joined by pilot whales and dolphins.

“Project CETI’s capture of the sperm whale birth marks the first time since the 1980s that a scientific record of a whale birth has been documented. Furthermore, this particular capture is the first one to include underwater audio and visuals. This capture is critical to helping the larger world understand more about whale society and gain more appreciation for non-human beings that inhabit our world.”

Watch these related videos next on TKSST:
• The three different ways mammals give birth
Humpback whales making ‘bubble nets’
• Mapping whale songs in the South Pacific

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