Scientists claim to have had a 20-minute conversation with KIT

  • The scientists had a conversation with a 38-year-old whale named Twain
  • This research could be used to develop tools to communicate with extraterrestrials

It might sound like a scene from Avatar 2.

But scientists say it’s now possible to hold a conversation with a whale after a 20-minute conversation with a humpback whale in Southeast Alaska.

A 38-year-old whale named Twain “talked” to researchers from the SETI Institute and UC Davis by answering a pre-recorded “contact call.”

This marks the first communication between humans and whales in their own language, according to the team.

Looking ahead, researchers say the conversation could pave the way for interactions with aliens in the future.

Researchers say they had a 20-minute conversation with ‘Twain’ (pictured), the humpback whale in Southeast Alaska
It might sound like something out of Avatar 2 (pictured), but scientists say this research could pave the way for future communications with aliens

Humpback Whales: Singers of the Sea

Scientific name: Megaptera novaeangliae

Diet: Whatever

Size: 48 to 62.5 feet

Weight: 40 tons

  • Humpback whales are found in every ocean in the world.
  • Their name comes from the small hump on their dorsal fins.
  • They are known for their amazing songs that they use to communicate and attract mates.

In the study, SETI researchers are studying how whales communicate in hopes of developing “smart filters” as part of the search for extraterrestrial life.

Scientists broadcast a type of greeting call called “whup/throp” through underwater speakers.

When the call was played across the water, Twain approached the boat and responded with a greeting call of his own.

Importantly, the scientists found that Twain changed the frequency of his own calls in response to the researchers’ broadcast.

According to lead author Dr. Brenda McCowan of the University of California, Davis, this mirroring behavior indicates that the whale was engaged in a kind of interactive conversation with the recorded call.

Dr McCowan said: “We believe this is the first such communicative exchange between humans and humpback whales in the humpback ‘language’.

In their research paper, Dr. Brenda and her co-authors suggest that Twain was motivated to respond by “excitement and possibly the onset of agitation.”

However, they also point out that the type of “behavioral synchrony” exhibited by the whale is related to bonding and group cohesion.

This, according to the authors, suggests that Twain was actively engaged in communicative exchange.

Dr. Brenda McCowan (left) and Dr. Fred Sharp played a pre-recorded greeting into the water as Twain approached their research vessel
The high intelligence and complex communication systems of humpback whales make them a good surrogate for communication with extraterrestrial life (stock image)

The ultimate goal of the researchers is not to talk to whales, but to even stranger life forms.

Just as another scientist might look to Antarctica as a stand-in for Mars or other extraterrestrial environments, SETI researchers are looking to Earth to find reserves of extraterrestrial intelligence.

In the absence of aliens, researchers hope to use whales to develop strategies for non-human communication.

Humpback whales are such a good alien proxy because of their extremely high intelligence and communication abilities.

This diagram shows Twain approaching the research vessel and circling as it responds to the explorers’ calls

READ MORE: Incredible moment humpback whale gives birth caught on video for first time

Their huge brains have large areas for processing auditory information, and their aquatic environment allows them to broadcast signals over vast distances.

Dr Fred Sharp of the Alaska Whale Foundation says: “Humpback whales are highly intelligent, have complex social systems, make tools – bubble nets for catching fish – and communicate extensively with both song and social conversation.”

This means that by learning how to find information in whale calls, scientists may one day be able to make sense of communications from aliens.

Dr Lawrence Doyle of the SETI Institute says: “Because of the current limitations of technology, an important assumption in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence is that extraterrestrials will be interested in making contact and so will target human receivers.”

The SETI Institute uses radar arrays like the Very Large Array radio telescope in New Mexico to try to look for communications from extraterrestrial life

He adds that “this important assumption is certainly supported by the behavior of humpback whales.”

Previously, SETI tried to detect extraterrestrial life by listening to radio signals arriving at Earth.

The theory is that a highly advanced extraterrestrial civilization may be interested in communicating with other planets and so broadcast information in high-energy pulses.

More recently, this has centered on a theory that there may be a pulsating beacon near the center of the Milky Way, broadcasting information from aliens.

However, since there is no way of knowing how aliens might communicate, SETI has focused on developing tools to scan for signals of intelligence in the constant background noise of space.

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