Do you think you can you tell the difference between the songs of killer and pilot whales? Marine biologists who created the “citizen scientist” experiment Whale FM need your help to unlock the secrets of whale songs.
“The human ear is actually really good at categorizing complex sounds,” says Peter Tyack, a co-creator of Whale FM and professor of marine mammal biology at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. “The underlying mammalian auditory system is fairly similar” between whales and humans.
The scientists at Whale FM listen to the sounds that whales and dolphins produce by putting microphones under water called hydrophones, then upload the sounds to the website whale.fm. To date, they’ve gathered almost 15,000 different sound recordings. You listen to a snippet of a killer or pilot whale conversation (the location of the whale is shown on a Google map) and then match it to one of 36 possible recordings shown beneath it. There’s an easy-to-follow interactive guide to walk you through the steps.
Since launching in December 2011, the site has amassed 120,000 recorded matches. Tyack says much about how whale communication is poorly understood by scientists, and he hopes crowdsourcing this new study may lead to some answers. “The experiment is the first step in understanding how these whales communicate,” he says. “The first thing we need to know is how to categorize their calls."
More information: Whale.FM