Whales Have Dialects, Too

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It’s not just Brits and Americans who are “divided by a common language.” Scientists have learned that whales, too, have accents and dialects.

According to Science Daily, the discovery came when a team of biologists set out to study sperm whale vocalizations for the Dominica Sperm Whale Project.  As they hunt for food deep in the ocean, sperm whales communicate with each other using characteristic clicking sounds called “codas.”

One particular coda, called “Five Regular,” is used by sperm whales everywhere and seems to mean the equivalent of “I am here.” The clicking sounds made by each whale vary slightly, and the whales can identify each other based on these variations, just as you can always recognize your best friend’s voice on the phone.

However, aside from the “Five Regular” call, the whales also have different regional dialects. For example, a sperm whale that grows up in the Pacific Ocean will use a completely different set of codas to communicate with its family than a sperm whale who grows up in the Caribbean.

Like humans, sperm whales are intensely social creatures, which explains why they evolved such advanced communication skills. Females spend their entire lives in family groups. Dalhousie University professor Dr. Hal Whitehead explained to Science Daily that sperm whales “are nomadic, so the most important things in their lives are each other.” Also like humans, baby sperm whales go through a period where they “babble” before settling into the dialect “spoken” by the whales around them.

Unfortunately, sperm whales are finding it more and more difficult to talk to each other these days. Human activity produces more underwater noise pollution now than ever before, and scientists are not sure how it will affect these intelligent ocean creatures.