Scientists Hope to Understand Sperm Whales With the Use of AI

Scientists Hope to Understand Sperm Whales With the Use of AI

Whales are majestic creatures. Seeing them breach is certainly a sight for sore eyes. There are around forty different types of whales, including the sperm whale. They are quite dangerous. Sperm whales are the largest toothed predators and are the only living member of the genus Physeter. They are quite ferocious when it comes to hunting their prey. There’s a lot of videos of them hunting squids which you can watch on YouTube. However, make sure you are subscribed to a decent Super internet deal, or the video will buffer.  

What You May Not Know About Sperm Whales

Did you know that sperm whales have a brain that is six times larger as compared to humans? If you think that’s interesting, then you will be blown away to know that just like people, they have social structures. These animals spend a lot of time socializing. They exchange codas. And the messages they send can be as short as ten seconds, or they can be as long as thirty minutes. In fact, you will be surprised to know that the duration and the complexity of their vocalization suggest that they are capable of using complex grammar. And this was recorded in a paper which is developed by CETI or Cetacean Translation Initiative. 

This paper also highlighted how to decode the vocalization of sperm whales. They suggested taking the recordings of these mammals first and then using machine learning to decode their sequence of clicks. The reason why CETI became so obsessed with decoding their language is that their clicks have a similar structure to that of Morse code. Therefore, AI can be used to easily analyze their communication. 

When and What did the Scientists Find Out?

Humans did not know anything about sperm whales until the 1950s. It was during that time that scientists realized that they make sounds. Around two decades later, they found out that these animals use that sound to communicate. According to CETI, the whales use clicking for dual purposes. Since these mammals can dive to extreme depths where there is pitch darkness, they can use the clicks to locate marine creatures such as squids. You can think of it as a sonar. This same clicking sound is used when they communicate. However, when they send messages, their clicking is more tightly packed.

The project leader of CETI and marine biologist David Gruber stated that getting even this much information was quite a challenge. But now, they are equipped with the necessary tools to study sperm whales in more detail. Those tools include drones, robotics, and artificial intelligence. 

How Can AI Help with Decoding Sperm Whale Vocalization?

Scientists are positive that AI can help decode the sperm whale codex, but how? Well, CETI’s data science researcher Pratyusha Sharma stated that artificial intelligence is developing at a rapid pace. There are different language models that have been introduced like GPT-3 which uses deep learning which can easily construct human-like stories or texts on command. Scientists are now hoping that this tech can help them decipher the communication of sperm whales.

A Few Challenges

Although the scientists know how to use AI to decode the communication of sperm whales. However, the process is not so simple. It has a few challenges. For instance, for these methods to work, a lot of data is required. And although the CETI project has around 100,000 sperm whale clicks. But guess what? That’s not enough! The machine learning algorithm will require at least 4 billion recordings. However, CETI is not backing down. It has installed many automated channels that will record the sperm whale clicks. This includes microphones which they dropped with the help of drones in those spots that are frequently visited by them. They also deployed robotic fish so they may record their clicks.

Another challenge is that sperm whales have dialects. So, this will make the process of decoding the communication even more difficult. It all comes down to how dedicated CETI is in figuring out what the mammals say to each other. 


Sperm whales are incredible animals and one of the most vicious ones too. They can usually live up to 70 years. However, the most interesting thing about them is that they can communicate with other sperm whales. And that is something that excited CETI. This is the reason why they are doing their research to decode their communication. But it isn’t going to be an easy journey. Only time will tell if the scientists are able to decipher the messages with AI or not. 


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