The Current

Whale talk: Canadian researcher reveals how sperm whales communicate

In an unprecedented study, Canadian marine biologist Shane Gero has been decoding a group of sperm whale families for more than a decade. Shane Gero explains what sperm whales are talking about and what he's learned about their society.
When two whales meet they make patterns of clicks called codas. Female sperm whales spend all year in family groups in subtropical regions of the ocean, while males roam all over the world. (Chris Bangs/Guam Variety News/The Associated Press)

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Deep down in the dark ocean there's a lot of chatter going on. Sperm whales use a pattern of clicks, known as codas, to communicate with their families and groups. 

The social marine animal travels in groups and families of grandmothers, mothers and daughters live together for life, while males leave in their early teens to roam the ocean and breed.

Sperm whales see their world through sound since they spend so much of their lives in the dark. They have the most powerful natural sonar system of the planet and use echolocation to make sounds that are 180 decibels.

They're living in multicultural societies in the ocean without having wars over who's right.- Marine biologist Shane Gero on sperm whales

So what's all the oceanic chatter about?

For more than a decade, marine biologist Shane Gero and his crew have been documenting the social and vocal behaviour of more than a dozen sperm whale families in the Caribbean to decode their dialect. Sperm whales pick this dialect right from the start, babbling shortly after birth.

The Dominica Sperm Whale Project involves unprecedented scope, and detail. Shane Gero is the founder of this project and shares what he's learned so far about what sperm whales are talking about and their society with The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

* Please note the Vimeo server is currently down and this link does not work. We hope it will be fixed shortly*

This segment was produced by Winnipeg network producer Suzanne Dufresne.

* Music played at the end of our show today was by The Rheostatics called Song of Congregation.