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Sperm whales are amazing animals. Spermaceti, "an oil sac that helps the whales focus sound," has long been a target for sperm whales, which are endangered and still recovering from being hunted by whalers in the 19th century. This information is provided by NOAA. Although this oil was a commercial product for humans, whales who live in different regions benefit from it as it helps with communication within pods. Researchers discovered in a recent study that sperm whales use a sophisticated system of clicks or coda that overlap, rise, fall, and more in a manner akin to a phonetic alphabet, potentially comparable in complexity to human language. This discovery was made after studying about 60 whales in the Eastern Caribbean clan.

Sperm whales communicate for a variety of social needs, including food and reproduction. They vocalise a series of clicking noises that travel through the water in order to accomplish this. A coda is a series of clicks, but these codas appear to work similarly to an alphabet of sounds that can be combined and changed.

Dr. Shane Gero, of Project CETI and the Dominica Sperm Whale Project stated, “Investigating a dataset collected across over a decade of nearly 9,000 codas from the sperm whale families of the Eastern Caribbean clan, our results show that these whales have a more complex combinatorial communication system that demonstrates rubato and ornamentation, in which whales make sub-second adjustments to match one another as they converse and add extra clicks to known coda types depending on the context within their conversations."

The whales modify their coda by varying the number of clicks (ornamentation), lengthening the intervals (rubato), or reacting instantly to the "speech" of another individual. Although the layering and social reactions might suggest meaning, the researchers have only categorized the sounds in order to survey the foundation of the "language," which they will subsequently attempt to decipher. Further research is required to compare coda amongst clans because geographically isolated groups may speak different dialects.

The first step is to understand structure. The next is to combine this with an understanding of context, which includes social context (such as who they are with when rubato changes the most) and behaviour (such as what they are doing when we find ornaments). Dr. Gero continues, "Is it with mom-calf, two sisters, or correlated with kin relatedness, for example].

This undoubtedly adds to the collection of unique facts about sperm whales that contribute to their fascinating status as the fascinating giants of the ocean.

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