In an interactive and global crowdsourcing experiment, marine researchers are asking for help to understand what whales might be saying in ‘whale song’.
Whale devotees are being asked to listen to around 15,000 audio recordings of killer whales (or orca) and pilot whales to attempt to help decipher new meanings, phrases and dialects in whale song.
The organisation of project is a collaboration between Scientific American and The Zooniverse, which is an online citizen science organisation.
A similar crowdsourcing experiment was launched to help examine images captured by the Hubble Space Telescope. A crowdsourced radiation map was also set up in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. The Scientific American has previously engaged citizen scientists to help track dragonfly swarms and to help during the Gulf oil spill as well.
The Whale Song Project website visitors are asked to identify similar or identical whale audio wave patterns using an interactive dashboard. Each sound is geotagged, letting researchers position a group of sounds in a particular area of the world.
Part of the reason for crowdsourcing this work is because people are often more capable than computers of finding similarities in complex spectograms (photographic or other visual or electronic representations of spectrums), says Professor Ian Boyd from the University of St Andrews sea mammal research unit, who is involved in the project.
Orca and pilot whales have very complex calls, so researchers want to find the differences in each group’s calls. They want to see if they can discover different sorts of messages between the whales. If whales have a language, this project might help to find various words in that language, even if humans aren’t able to understand what they mean. We have so much yet to learn about whales.
So are you up to the task or know of anyone who is? The Whale Song Project can be found at Whale.fm