Seminar at Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, 29 - 30 April 2019

Participation in seminar at Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University. The meeting has been organised by David Gruber, Presidential Professor of Biology & Professor of Environmental Sciences, Baruch College and Robert Wood, Charles River Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard University.

Novel Ways to Non-invasively Visualize/Characterize/Decipher the Sonic Communication of Marine Mammals, Particularly Sperm Whales (Physeter macrocephalus), via Compact, Low-noise, High-resolution Underwater Devices.

Sperm whales, Physeter macrocephalus, possess the largest animal brain. We share the planet with these majestic creatures, who also live in family units and have complex vocal language, yet they remain largely mysterious. What is unfortunate is that their spermaceti oil, part of their echolocation apparatus, has received the most human attention. This oil fuelled a massive whaling industry in the early 20th century which almost resulted in sperm whales being hunted to extinction.

This ‘exploratory’ seminar aims to bring together a vast and diverse array of human brains to explore ways in which advanced technology can bring us closer to understanding sperm whales and provide deeper knowledge of their communication and behaviours. Sperm whales carry the largest and one of the most complicated biological sound generators in the animal kingdom. They produce sharp broadband pulses known as Clicks at regular repetition rates of 1-2 seconds and with frequency reaching 30 kHz. Clicks are emitted at various repetition rates and patterns to produce sounds such as slow clicks, clangs, creaks, chirrups and codas. The sounds emitted by sperm whales have been studied since first being identified in the 1950s, yet a deep understanding of their sonic language remains to be deciphered. By convening leading and creative engineers, roboticists, computer scientists, whale biologists, sound experts, mathematicians, underwater technologists and free-divers, we hope to advance human understanding of whales sonic language via interdisciplinary collaborations and non-invasive techniques and technology.