"Whales are a proxy for aliens."

Speaking Whale

A team of scientists from the SETI Institute, which is devoted to the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, claims to have "conversed" with a humpback whale in Alaska.

While it may sound a little far-fetched, the team is hoping to apply what they learn to lay the groundwork for our efforts to communicate with aliens — if we ever make first contact, that is.

"Whales are a proxy for aliens," SETI researcher and University of California Davis animal behavioralist Josie Hubbard told the New York Post. "They’re intelligent creatures with a language that is foreign to us."

"The things we learn from communicating with whales could help us when it comes time to connect with aliens," she added.

Humpaback Girl

Unsurprisingly, having any kind of back-and-forth with a humpback whale is far from straightforward.

"Their language is complex," fellow SETI researcher and whale song theorist Lisa Walker told the NYPost. "They make whoops and thrups and groans and squeaks. Their vocalizations are fascinating. We are trying to figure out what the vocalizations mean."

In December 2023, the team played underwater recordings of humpback whales to other whales off the coast of Alaska. While most of the mammals ignored them, a female named Twain started circling their boat, mimicking the noises.

"It was a contact call," Hubbard told the NYPost. "It’s how the whales call to each other; they make whoops and thrups, and we believe that’s how they determine each other’s locations."

However, it wasn't exactly an intellectual conversation — and it sounds like the scientists themselves are a bit hazy on what was actually said.

"It might have just been us saying hello, and her responding hello, and us saying hello again,"  Walker admitted, "but it was definite communication," adding that Twain did so "36 times in 20 minutes."

Still, they feel it's significant.

"We believe this is the first such communicative exchange between humans and humpback whales in the humpback 'language,'" said Brenda McCowan, UC Davis research behaviorist and lead author of a paper detailing the exchange published in the journal Peer J., in a December statement.

In short, while nobody knows if we'll ever make contact with an extraterrestrial species, the experiment is a fascinating albeit early attempt to communicate with intelligent life that lives right on our doorstep.

"Because of current limitations on technology, an important assumption of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence is that extraterrestrials will be interested in making contact and so target human receivers," coauthor and SETI Institute researcher Laurance Doyle added. "This important assumption is certainly supported by the behavior of humpback whales."

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