Sperm whale 'accents' studied

May 12, 2011 at 5:55 PM
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HALIFAX, Nova Scotia, May 12 (UPI) -- Sperm whales communicate with clicking sounds and can tell which whale is "speaking" by the sound qualities of the clicks, Canadian researchers say.

Researchers at Dalhousie University say the clicking patterns are known as "codas," with different codas meaning different things. Caribbean and Pacific whales have different repertoires of codas, much like regional dialects, the researches said a university release issued Thursday.

Just as we can tell our friends apart by the sounds of their voices and the way they pronounce their words, sperm whales can identify each other by the different "accents" of the clicks, the researchers said.

The findings were recently published in the journal Animal Behavior.

Understanding how whales communicate is important to understanding threats that human activities present to the whale, the researchers said.

Increased shipping traffic, underwater explosions caused by the search for oil and military sonar all contribute to ocean noise that masks communication between whales.

"No one wants to live in a rock concert," marine biologist Shane Gero said.

Noise pollution is especially troublesome in the ocean because "it is a totally different sensory world," he said.

Sperm whales can dive to depths of greater than 3,200 feet and depend on sound for communication and navigation in the pitch black of the deep water.

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