Whale Communication

From: Orca Network (howard@orcanetwork.org)
Date: Tue Jan 07 2003 - 01:04:57 EST

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    My name is Michael Griggs, and I am a student at Emerson Jr. Sr. High
    School in Emerson, New Jersey. Currently, I am enrolled in the Emerson
    Science Research course in conjunction with Farleigh Dickinson University
    in Teaneck, New Jersey. The course allows me to freely develop an
    experiment of my own, on a topic of my choosing with the aid of a Mentor.
    It also grants me 12 college credits. I chose Whale Communication using
    voice analysis software and data found on the internet. However, I am
    trying to find an authentic experiment, one that was never performed by
    anyone else. With that in mind, I come to you asking if you could help aid
    me in finding a particular problem to work on in this field. I am using 3
    programs, Syrinx, Sigview, and Ishmael. All 3 programs are open source and
    can be found on the internet. Where should I go with my experiment, knowing
    that I have these voice analysis programs, and data in Wav And MP3 format?
    If you could help suggest possible directions into this field it would be
    appreciated. I am currently thinking of using the abilities of the program
    to compare and contrast two or more whale sounds in the hopes of finding
    some kind of variation or similarity that can aid the science community. Or
    possibly comparing and contrasting Whale and Human "Speech". Any help would
    be appreciated, so please contact me with a reply as soon as you can. Thank
    you for reading, and I am sorry if this email is too long.

    Is it just me or are these questions getting more and more sophisticated?
    Your question is rightfully long because it's complex. I applaud your focus
    on whale communication and your adherence to the scientific method. You
    mention that you have data. I assume that means recorded
    vocalizations. Your data are essential to designing your experiment, so I
    would need to know more about the material you are working with. If you can
    compare calls from various species, say bottlenose dolphin, beluga whale
    and killer whale, you may be able to determine some similarities, for
    instance, in call frequencies, that could suggest whether the different
    species use the same frequencies, which could be an indication that they
    could possibly communicate with one another. That's just a hypothetical
    example of an experimental design.

    Without going out in the field with a lot of electronic gear like
    hydrophone arrays, computer analysis programs linked to your array, and
    video cameras linked to your computers, plus the patience to wait several
    seasons to get significant data, I'm not sure how to design a novel
    experiment using data gathered for other purposes. You might take a look
    at the Whale Museum's SeaSound program (http://www.seasound.org/) for some
    ideas on how to design a field experiment.

    In the meantime, I would also suggest you look into some of the theoretical
    foundations of the questions being asked by these experiments. What do we
    mean by whale communication that makes it different from, or similar to,
    say, buffalo communication, or elephant communication? What are the
    variations in communication used by different cetacean species? What are
    the physical properties of water that make communicating through it
    different from communicating through air? What are the anatomic
    characteristics of cetaceans that are adaptations to the need to
    communicate through water? What may be the cultural determinants that could
    help us understand the role of communication for various species and
    communities of cetaceans?

    It is important to practice designing an experiment as part of an overall
    preparation for a career in research and/or education, but there are many
    other aspects to the empirical method as well, such as getting current in
    the field in terms of the work already done or in progress and the
    theoretical foundations of the questions being asked. Then comes the
    publishing or comparing notes with colleagues. Scientific investigation and
    discourse add up to a rich and rewarding way of life.

    I hope you'll have more questions in the future.


    Howard Garrett

    Orca Network
    Greenbank WA
    (360) 678-3451

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