Sperm whale clicks could hide a surprisingly complex ‘alphabet’

Sperm whale clicks could hide a surprisingly complex ‘alphabet’

Science Alert reports:

A recent analysis of a sperm whale’s vocalizations suggests variations in ‘clicks’ represent a kind of alphabet that forms the basis of a complex communication system.

Members of the conservation initiative Project CETI discovered series of clicks less than 2 seconds in length act as codas – basic units (phonemes) of cetacean speech.

The highly social mammals have previously been heard identifying themselves with unique patterns of clicking, but this is the first time a combinatorial and context-dependent structure has been demonstrated.

“Sperm whale vocalizations are more expressive and structured than previously believed,” Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) computer scientist Pratyusha Sharma and colleagues write in their paper.

The researchers analyzed vocalizations recorded from about 60 different sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) between 2005 to 2018. A total of 8,719 distinct codas were identified in the recordings, sorting into 21 distance types of coda defined by previous studies. [Continue reading…]

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