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Humpback Whale Communication Could Help SETI Talk to Aliens

Communication with intelligent beings from other worlds is a goal of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), but perhaps communication with intelligent beings with our own world is the first step we as a species need to take before venturing to the stars. In a video released by SETI scientist, Laurance Doyle, he stated looking toward the Earth’s oceans is one of the best ways to prepare for extraterrestrial communication – specifically humpback whales.

Through math and statistics, Doyle, and a team of five other scientists are investigating not only the extent of animal speech, but also what exact vocalizations mean. Through mathematical processes (mostly statistics and pattern recognition) the team hopes to advance human understanding of the communication patterns of other species on our own planet. Such knowledge promises to make any official communications between SETI and possible extraterrestrials a bit easier if successful.

The study is backed by the Templeton World Charity Foundation, an organization pushing for the advancement of science and technology for finding “meaning, purpose and truth.”  Doyle is aided by his experience in signal recognition looking both for extraterrestrial life and more recently, exoplanets, which are planets beyond this solar system. That experience, partnered with the team of scientists from the University of California at Davis, is using information theory as well as precise measurements of humpback whale songs to compare them to other species’ communication habits – including human.

In the release on SETI’s website, the plan outlines several goals, which include:

  • Develop a comprehensive framework to understand friendship, love, devotion, and trust in non-human groups
  • Identify the qualities of expertise that are valued and valuable among non-human animals
  • Identify and investigate intelligences that act or are instantiated over very long distances or time periods
  • Explore collective behavior and group dynamics over long or short time and length scales that may be forms of group intelligence
  • Explaining to what extent behaviors we observe in other life forms are indicative of intelligences

Outside of helping aid in SETI’s research, the project also hopes to measure empathy in humpback whales. Such empathy has led to behaviors in the wild some may deem as compassionate, such as alerting other marine life to adjacent pods of carnivorous orcas. In order to complete this study, the team is going to deploy a five-element sensory array in Alaska by 2019.

In addition to his goal of one day being able to translate the vocalizations of animals, finding earth-like habitable planets and one day speaking with E.T., Doyle also wants to work toward educating the public about both the prominence of exoplanets in the universe as well as the possible rarity of Earth’s conditions making it habitable.