Whale Comunications

From: Howard Garrett (tokitae@pugetsound.net)
Date: Tue May 29 2001 - 01:09:45 EDT


I am doing a project on Whale Comunications and I need some questions
answered.

1.Why do whales need the communication?
        I'd say the whales need communication so they can keep in touch with one
another. That's important for many animals, especially mammals, and most
especially for whales and dolphins, which don't have a set territory or den
or nest to return to. They need to constantly maintain communication so
each of them will know where all the others are. They also need to be able
to communicate to coordinate movements and hunting strategies. There are
also many social communications that keep them all aware of each other in
ways we don't understand very well.

2.How do they send it to a certain whale?
        It's possible that they can direct their calls to certain other whales by
focussing their melons, in the front of their foreheads, but it seems
difficult to keep it private. They may not be able to call to a distant
whale without the rest of them also hearing it. I guess they don't value
privacy as much as we do. Maybe they think of themselves more as members
of a family group than as separate individuals, so it doesn't matter if all
the other members hear everything. Maybe that's what they want.

3.How do they hear it from so far away?
        Water is very different from air because it carries sound waves much
farther and faster than air carries sound. If you've ever seen lightning
and then heard thunder a few seconds later, it is takes that long for the
sound to reach you because the air it goes has air molecules that are not
packed very tightly together compared to water molecules. Water is a dense
medium, so sound travels through water much faster and farther, so whales
can hear each other from many miles away. For some large whales like blue
whales their voices may travel thousands of miles to be heard by other whales.

4.Do baby whales understand it when they are just born?
        It's very possible that they hear the sounds before they are born, through
the water and then through the womb, because it is all like water. So maybe
they start to learn some sounds even before they are born.

5.How do we know whales communicate?
        There are many, many recordings of the sounds that different species of
whales make. Scientists assume that the sounds are for communication even
though there is seldom any way to understand what the communication is
about. Often when an orca makes a call it is copied immediately by many
others, but we don't know why. Humpback songs are evolving variations of
calls that all the humpbacks in entire oceans make at the same time. They
listen and learn from one another, but we still don't know what it's about.

6.Why study whale communication?
        To understand whales better. If we can agree and understand that whales
use highly developed communication, and if we realize that behavior and
cultural patterns are passed from whale to whale by communication, then the
study of whale communication will help us understand the whales' behavior
and cultural patterns. If we can begin to understand the whales' behavior
and cultures maybe we can learn something that can help us live better.

7.What is the benifit to humans?
        See answer to question 6. The benefit is to learn how to live on Planet
Earth more harmoniously and peacefully, if we can begin to pay attention to
the social systems and patterns of habitat use by whales.

Thank you for your time,
        Thank you for your wonderful questions.

Craig Hassinger Wolcott C.T
Age 11

Howard Garrett
Orca Conservancy
2403 So. North Bluff Rd.
Greenbank WA 98253
(360) 678-3451
tokitae@pugetsound.net
www.rockisland.com/~tokitae
www.orcaconservancy.org



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