Ideas From The CBC

Thursday, April 5 at 2:00 pm

Darkwave - Underwater Languages At The Brink Of Extinction

Is there a whale culture? A voice? A mind? We humans find this idea compelling, and we always have. Ancient myths about whales and dolphins exist in every seafaring society. They have appeared as escorts of Aphrodite, Atargatis and Eros. As the saviours of the Maori, carrying New Zealand's first inhabitants onto the island. And of course, there is Eah-toop the right whale whose back formed the base of the universe for the Nuu-Chah-Nulth First Nation on Canada's West Coast.

But today whales are threatened by us, their language eroding through noise and climate change. Carrie Haber explores how marine scientists around the world are thinking about our evolutionary courtship with these magnificent mammals in the sea.

"Until about ten or fifteen years ago it was a bit dangerous to talk about animal culture in scientific meetings. There were people who were bound to jump out of their chairs and say that human cultures are so different from the kinds of social conventions that developed with animals. So it's not useful to use the same word, it's not useful to compare them. I think that's pretty much gone away, now. With the sort of large-brained social species like whales, like some of the higher primates, we really constrain ourselves in terms of how we can think about them, if we start from the premise that they're fundamentally different from us and there are no lessons to learn from humans. So some of us, myself included, threw that idea out ten years ago at least. And said ok, well there are parallels to that which we can draw between the two kinds of species." – Lance Barrett-Lennard, Head of Cetacean research at the Vancouver Aquarium

Guests in the program:

  • Dr. Hal Whitehead, Professor, Department of Biology, Dalhousie University.
  • Dr. Shane Gero, Founder of the Dominica Sperm Whale Project and Research Fellow, Marine Bioacoustics Lab at Aarhus University in Denmark.
  • Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard, Head, Cetacean Research, Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre.
  • Dr. Valeria Vergara, Research Scientist, Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre.
  • Dr. John Ford, Head, Cetacean Research Program, Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
  • Dr. Robert Michaud, Founder, GREMM (Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals).
  • Dr. Harald Yurk, Senior Behavioural Ecologist and Bioacoustician at JASCO Applied Sciences.
  • Dr. Vincent Janik, Director, Scottish Oceans Institute, St. Andrew's University.
  • David Drury composed music for the program.

To listen to the audio of “Darkwave - Underwater languages at the brink of extinction” on Ideas From The CBC online, please click HERE.