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Researcher: Sperm Whales Might Give Each Other Names

A sperm whale at Kaikoura, New Zealand. i

A sperm whale at Kaikoura, New Zealand. Jamie McEwan/via Flickr hide caption

toggle caption Jamie McEwan/via Flickr
A sperm whale at Kaikoura, New Zealand.

A sperm whale at Kaikoura, New Zealand.

Jamie McEwan/via Flickr

Wired Science brings a bit of curious news today: Using preliminary reports, biologist Luke Rendell of Scottland's University of St. Andrews says sperm whales seem to announce themselves using a unique click sequence, or name.

Rendell says that the whales' codas usually vary depending on the position of the listener, but this particular coda, which they termed 5R and is placed at the beginning of a call, didn't change and in the three whales studied it was distinct.

Wired quotes Rendell:

"There is no doubt in my mind that the animals can tell the difference between the timing of individuals." Moreover, 5R tends to be made at the beginning of each coda string as if, like old-time telegraph operators clicking out a call sign, they were identifying themselves. Said Rendell, "It may function to let the animals know which individual is vocalizing."

Rendell stressed that much more research is needed to be sure of 5R's function. "We could have just observed a freak occurrence," he said. Future research will involve more recordings. "This is just the first glimpse of what might be going on."

This kind of find doesn't come out of the blue. Back in 2006, scientists discovered that bottlenose dolphins appeared to develop individual whistles very early in life.

Also, it's worth noting that while your instinct would be to imagine a sperm whale's call to be like that of a dolphin, it's a deeper call, more akin to morse code clicks. For a listen check out the video below at around the 50 second mark:




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