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Scientists just had a 20-minute ‘conversation’ with a humpback whale

Published Dec 22nd, 2023 4:18PM EST
Humpback Whale
Image: Mathias/Adobe

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Researchers have had an unprecedented and exceptional encounter with a humpback whale, allowing them to learn more about humpback whale communication systems. The encounter happened earlier this year when a group of researchers known as Whale-SETI held a 20-minute “conversation” with a humpback named Twain.

The conversation is heavily detailed in a paper published in the journal Peer J and it showcases the first conversation between humans and humpback whales using “humpback language.” To pull off such a wonderful breakthrough, researchers used a recorded humpback contact call to get Twain’s attention. From there, the whale responded with a greeting signal and began to circle their boat.

Lead author Dr. Brenda McCowan from U.C. Davis says that the conversation goes a long way to emphasizing the intelligence of these creatures, and highlights how complex humpback communication systems are. The fact that they can create nets made of bubbles to catch fish, and even communicate extensively through their songs and calls is mind-boggling.

But this communication is also important for more reasons than just having a better understanding of how humpback whales talk to each other. The researchers say that it could also support an important assumption in the search for alien life.

Dr. Laurence Doyle of SETI Institute says, “Because of current limitations on technology, an important assumption of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence is that extraterrestrials will be interested in making contact and so target human receivers. This important assumption is certainly supported by the behavior of humpback whales.” (via

There are also other implications to take into account here, too, such as Twain’s behavior during the conversation, and even the way that he responded. All of this can provide clues that help us better understand humpback whale communication systems, which the Whale-SETI scientists can use for additional research in the future.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.

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