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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Take five minutes to match a few whale noises. We guarantee you’ll feel better.

Website Enlists Crowds to Analyze Whale Songs

By Duncan Geere, Wired UK
The folks at Zooniverse have a new citizen science project for you to play with — matching up whalesong to try and analyze the watery leviathans’ language.
Sounds  have been collected from both pilot whales and killer whales (both of which are actually species of dolphin). Each family of killer whales appears to have a distinct “  dialect” that it uses to communicate, and closely related families appear to share calls. Biologists have begun to categorize those noises, but the species’ communication is still poorly understood.
Pilot whales, too, appear to have similar dialects and calls, but researchers haven’t yet begun to seriously categorize these in the same way. Some of the calls have a general context that’s known — reproduction, contact calls for finding each other, etc. — but many others remain a mystery. Furthering the process of analyzing both species’ calls is where you come in.
If you head over to Whale.fm, you’ll be presented with a large whale call, placed on a Google map, and 36 smaller possible matches. Your task is to pick the one that’s closest to the original call, with the help of visualizations of what the audio sounds like.
With the public’s assistance in matching items in the datasets and creating links, the team behind the experiment, from St. Andrews University in Scotland, hope to better classify the datasets and also answer a few additional questions — how large the pilot whales’ call repertoire is, whether long-finned and short-finned pilot whales have different dialects, and whether the whale song changes during sonar transmissions (from human activity).
The sounds are collected from animals tagged with “D-Tags,” non-invasive sensors attached with suction cups, which eventually fall off. They record not only the sounds that the animals make, but also what they hear from other animals. They record location-based data, too, making them very useful for remotely studying the creatures. They’re attached by scientists using long poles.
What we particularly like about Whale.fm is how soothing the whole process is. If you’re having a tough day at work, put your headphones on and take five minutes to match a few whale noises. We guarantee you’ll feel better.

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