The Secrets of Cetacean Communication Revealed

"They like you, but they're not the hell your whales"

In 1966 military sound engineer Frank Watlington heard something weird while recording underwater explosions.

Whale song.

Frank passed the recordings off to biologist Roger Payne. After a few listenings, he discovered these weren't random sounds but complex vocalizations by creatures possibly as smart as humans. Recordings weren't the only data Payne shared with the world, He printed out sonograms of whale song, illustrating their structure as units, phrases, and themes.

Ever since Payne's discovery of whale song's properties, humans fascination with whales has flourished. If it wasn't for his discovery, these great beasts could've become a fond memory, hunted to extinction. Fortunately whales still swim among us, singing to each other, tantalizing us with the prospect of interspecies communication.

Eerily, the sonograms resembled the sheet music for Gregorian chants. These neumes evolved into today's musical notes. Now David Rothenberg and Mike Deal have standardized whale song notation for human consumption.

Sonograms and whale song musical notes.

The top row contains individual examples of each unit. The colored glyphs below were created by tracing the “averaged” shapes that resulted from overlaying the many occurrences of the same unit across Knapp’s recording.
Because standard musical notation is, in essence, made of timelines of note symbols plotted against a vertical axis of pitch frequencies, we can match the whale sounds to their corresponding frequencies on the musical staves. Hopefully this gives the whale sound shapes a more familiar context.

This isn't humanity's first attempt to put whale song into an anthropomorphic context. Marc Fischer uses wavelets, a mathematical function used in signal processing, to visualize sound. Over at Aguasonic Acoustics, he's imaged whale and dolphin song into gorgeous mandalas like the one below. Best thing about them, they still show "rhymes" and the units of speech that excited Payne.

Humpback song mandala

Going a step further into the fringe, look at the soundwaves in the blue whale song video. If you squint, you can make out a face in parts of the sonogram. This might be a clue to the method of communication between whales. Whales use sound not only to communicate, but also to hunt and navigate with active sonar. Sonar is the use of sound waves and listening for the echo to "see" the world. Sonar's pretty sensitive, as dolphins can differentiate fish with their clicks and whistles.

But what if these vocalizations aren't language as we know it, but images or sonic holograms.

Each moan, groan, click, and whistle, adjusted for pitch, rhythm and tempo, could generate an image or animation. Instead of saying "A pod of orca killed ol' Humphrey", the witnesses would create the scene in a song. As the song propagates through pods, variation does occur.This might be evidence of whales collaborating, embellishing, or entropy akin to a game of Telephone. That's a huge leap of logic, but how could one test the hypothesis of whale song as an image?

Putting whale song back into a human context, consider each unit of whale song as a pixel. With enough pixels, an image will form, but only if one knows the correct pattern for the raster. Take the Arecibo message as an example. It's 73 rows by 23 columns, making up 1679 pixels. If earthlings didn't give those dimensions to aliens, they might screw up the image as below.

23 by 73, not 73 by 23, Zorlak!

In this case, the correct dimensions are just transposed rendering the message as gibberish. If audio engineers play with the whale song, tuning it to whale-specific frequencies, an image might emerge. In short, humans need to think like a whale rather than a human brain in a whale's body. If we are able to communicate with cetaceans, this'd be a huge step for SETI should we ever intercept their communications.

News Briefs 06-10-2015

Those days where you're just trying to have fun and the universe decides to get in the way...

Quote of the Day:

The foundations upon which history is based look increasingly suspect. Let's no longer shroud ourselves in the illusion that [mainstream] historians and archaeologists are invincible.

Graham Hancock


What's the end game of late-stage capitalism? What provisions are The Powers That Be making for the Coming Collapse; for Climate Chaos and other Catastrophes? This is the Plutocratic Exit Strategy. In this series we'll see how they plan on making their getaway, and how we can work to steal the future back.

The story so far: In the first post of this series we took a ride on the Hyperloop, and talked about the philosophies of the California Ideology and SMI2LE, then began to sketch out the ideas of the Breakaway Civilisation, the Shadow State and the Secret Space Program.

In this post we'll get up close with the Coming Collapse; examining the interrelation between Plague and Progress, both metaphorically and literally.

The language we're constructing to describe the wider view of reality we're developing in this series will increase in scope.

We'll make specific readings of some films and TV shows to illustrate some key variations of the Plutocratic Exit Strategy. By comparing and contrasting them, we'll begin to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of these plans, furthering our understanding of how they unfold (and thus how we might subvert them and steal our future back).

Just like the previous post, in the following we'll largely draw from the fictional universes of Tomorrowland and Kingsman: The Secret Service. This time we'll also dip into my previous analysis of Fortitude. Elysium gets a bit of a mention, too. As does Moonraker.


Our unofficial spokesperson for the Breakaway Civilisation, Elon Musk, will drop by again, to announce the arrival of another piece of science-fictional technology. We'll look at its incredible potential: to help the Elite flee a broken world, or let us build a more resilient civilisation. In this way we'll illustrate the differences and similarities between Infrastructure for the Apocalypse and Infrastructure for Building Through the Collapse.

Up Close With The Coming Collapse: Plague & Progress

If you've read this far, you're not allergic to spoilers. There was a high dosage of them in Part 1, after all. So as we proceed in our discussion of the Plutocratic Exit Strategy we'll increase our exposure to them to near toxic levels, as we reveal and analyse most of the key plot points of the two films that we've been using to expand the grammar we're building to describe the post-cyberpunk condition. Building up a language enabling a richer discussion of the technological transfer currently under way, that would appear to be originating fully-formed from the various mythic, science-fictional realms we've identified.

The key question that always remains is this: Who will be on the receiving end of such almost technomagical objects? And what will they build with these wonders?

As we keenly examine the narrative engines of these fictions - deconstructing their workings in detail - we'll become able to draw in other, related explorations of these issues and put them together to see both how the whole thing operates, and more crucially, where it breaks down or malfunctions.

As this series progresses we'll see that Elon Musk's ... Read More »

The Darkest Side Of The Moon


Something weird on the moon has the European Space Agency scratching its collective head. Today they released a mosaic from the 32,000 photos taken between 2004-2006 by the SMART-1 satellite mapping our largest, natural satellite.

At the center of this picture is our moon's north pole. It appears, regardless of the sun's angle during the moon's day-night cycle, these areas are in perpetual shadow.

Astronomers can use images like these to identify peaks on the north pole that are almost always lit and areas deep inside its largest craters that may never see daylight. These areas of constant shadow are of particular interest because frozen within them could be water ice and clues to the history of the Solar System.

Or... they might be filled with dark matter.

The Mother Lode of NASA Apollo HD Images Has Just Been Dumped on the Internet

It's like Xmas in October --and no, I ain't talking about my birthday-- thanks to the release of THOUSANDS of high-resolution photographs taken by NASA during the age of the Apollo missions, between 1961 and 1972.

Those images were taken by the Apollo astronauts using Hasselblad 500EL data cameras, equipped with special IMAX-like, 70mm thin-based film produced by Kodak, which is the equivalent of 12,000 lines of digital resolution --the perfect excuse to finally get that new iMac with 5k Retina display next Black Friday!

Project Apollo Archive, which contains over 8400 pics in total, is being curated by Kipp Teague, who founded it since 1999.

"Around 2004, Johnson Space Center began re-scanning the original Apollo Hasseelblad camera film magazines, and Eric Jones and I began obtaining TIFF (uncompressed, high-resolution) versions of these new scans on DVD," Teague tells The Planetary Society. "These images were processed for inclusion on our websites, including adjusting color and brightness levels, and reducing the images in size to about 1000 dpi (dots per inch) for the high-resolution versions." Because there was so much demand for higher-resolution versions, Teague decided to reprocess the entire set and upload them to Flickr magazine by magazine.

[NOTE: These are **not** the best-resolution versions available on the archive]

Teague hopes to further expand the archive to 13,000 by the end of this week --but you can start looking for the wires on the lunar landing's movie set right now!

News Briefs 05-10-2015

Before we begin, a quick heads-up to the esoteric book collectors our there. And now, the news:

Thanks @djp1974 and @mandate33.

Quote of the Day:

I believe we are a species with amnesia, I think we have forgotten our roots and our origins. I think we are quite lost in many ways. And we live in a society that invests huge amounts of money and vast quantities of energy in ensuring that we all stay lost. A society that invests in creating unconsciousness, which invests in keeping people asleep so that we are just passive consumers or products and not really asking any of the questions.

Graham Hancock

Crows Fear Death

Crow death creepy

In what may be the creepiest science experiment ever, researchers donned latex masks to find out why crows gather around their dead. The reason for the masks is because crows never forget a face, and the scientists involved weren't keen on getting harassed by angry corvids. Not only did the researchers scare the bejeesus out of a local man walking his dog, but they discovered that crows know what death is -- and they fear it. The evidence keeps stacking up for the remarkable intelligence of this much misunderstood and maligned bird. In fact, crows are as smart as a 7-year-old human child.

Read more at BBC Earth. Photo credit: Kaeli Swift/BBC.

Also worth reading:

All that Water on Mars is Off Limits

With the discovery of flowing water on the surface of Mars, it's fair to say it's been quite a week for Science and astronomers all over the world --particularly so for armchair researcher Efrain Palermo with this vindication of his 14-year-old findings, as I reported last Tuesday.

"Great!" all those space enthusiasts may be thinking; "now NASA will know where *exactly* to send future drone missions to look for signs of life on Mars."

Well, here's the thing: Legally they can't.

NASA, as a government agency, is bound to obey the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which is part of the international agreements intended to govern the conduct of member nations of the United States with regards to activities and/or exploitation of outer space, the Moon and other celestial bodies.

The Outer Space Treaty was opened for signature in the United States, the United Kingdom and the former Soviet Union on January of 1967 --while the Space Race was in full swing, and there was a serious concern that the Cold War could extend beyond the surface of our planet-- and entered into force on October of 1967. As of 2013, 103 countries are parties of it.

The treaty (which you can download here) binds all signature parties to conduct space exploration solely for peaceful scientific purposes; it forbids the national appropriation of the Moon or other planets (asteroids included) or the placing of either weapons or military bases in any of them, nor on orbit around the Earth.

Article IX states:

[...]State Parties to the Treaty shall pursue studies of outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, and conduct exploration of them so as to avoid their harmful contamination [emphasis mine] and also adverse changes in the environment of the Earth resulting from the introduction of extraterrestrial matter and, where necessary, shall adopt appropriate measures for this purpose.

Ever wondered why Curiosity and the rest of its rover siblings always seemed to be sent to the most BORING parts of Mars, where there was little chance they could actually find a living Martian microbe? Well, now you know why.

As Bec Crew explains on his article for Science Alert, NASA's current sterelization methods for the equipment they send out to outer space or other planets are not 100% reliable, hence there's still a tiny risk of contaminating the surface of these other worlds with alien life --i.e. Earthling microbes.

Not that NASA couldn't sterilise the crap out of its rovers if it wanted to. As UNSW astrobiologist Malcolm Walter told The Sydney Morning Herald, they could blast Curiosity with crazy amounts of heat and radiation that would wipe out anything and everything that managed to survive the journey from Earth without a shadow of a doubt, but then they'd be wiping out the rover's internal electronics in the process. Not exactly practical.

"In order to be completely sterile, they'd have to use really powerful ionising radiation or heat, both of which would damage the electronics," says Walter. "So they go as far as they dare."

The treaty sure throws a bucket of cold, briny water not only to our hopes of finally finding extraterrestrial life within our lifetime, but also on the possibility of fulfilling a manned mission to Mars. Deposits of H2O on the world you want to visit is a great asset, because it means you can use the water not only for consumption, but also to extract breathable oxygen and event convert it into rocket fuel, which you could use for the trip back home.

Oh, and that awesome trip to Europa concocted by real-life Tony Stark? Fuhgeddaboutit! Unless he becomes a citizen of Guatemala, or other non-party state of the Outer Space Treaty --although with his dough he could probably buy one of those in the future...

Of course, back in 1967 there were a lot of things we didn't know about the resilience of extremophiles, which are now been found to resist the harshest environments imaginable, like the core of nuclear reactors or even on the windows of the space station (apparently); which is why Akshat Rathi of Quartz concludes there's no guarantee NASA's or other space agency's missions hadn't already contaminated Mars forever --Beagle 2 anyone?

Should we worry that much, though? We know Earth and Mars have been exchanging meteorites for millions of years, so sending up more microbes hitching a ride on our equipment or astronatus could be seen as a continuation of a natural panspermic process.

We could always revise the treaty, making it more lenient with regards to the 'harmful contamination' of the Moon and othe celestial bodies, or maybe even abolish it entirely due to its impracticality --after all, seems to me the Air Force has been bending the rules somewhat with that secretive X-37B space plane which can orbit the Earth for months doing god-knows-what!

But of course, if the treaty goes, so too the assurance that we won't have nuclear warheads zipping over our heads like an orbital Damocles sword...

But hey, if everything fails to prevent the safe and unpolluting exploration of outer space, just remember: There's always remote viewing.

News Briefs 02-10-2015

”I have attempted to show that the geological record is extremely imperfect.”

Quote of the Day:

“There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”

C. Darwin