WHALES: Scale of Listening

We’re listening to the call of a Blue Whales. Because the sounds are so slow and so deep, we need to speed the recording up in order to perceive the pitch and rhythm of the whale’s call in its entirety. Well, it raises the intriguing question of how the blue whale – the largest creature on earth – perceives its world. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by the American Museum of Natural History.

Chris Clark is director of the Bioacoustics Research Program at Cornell University.

“Close your eyes and imagine getting up out of your seat or wherever you are now, and walking into the next room. Going down the hallway. Going to the front of the house. Getting in the car etc. You can see it. You can bring that whole string of visual imagery right into your mind. Now imagine if I said, ‘Forget your eyes. Do it with your ears. Imagine hearing your way out of the room. Out of the house. Into the car.’ and you’d say, ‘That’s not comprehensible.’. But that is what a whale does. When a Blue Whale needs to go from one part of the ocean to another it uses its acoustic memory. Its acoustic vision to move from one place to another. To reconstruct and compare the present acoustic vision as to what it has in its mind, that it learned ten, twenty, thirty, forty years ago.”

“The ocean is not a homogeneous body of water. It’s a very distinctive, layered circulating weather system. The whales have to learn it and they have to live in it. And the way they know about it is with sound. Because they can perceive objects hundreds of miles away. And they can image their world on scales that are two, three, four orders of magnitude greater than anything that you and I can do.”

Pulse of the Planet is presented by the American Museum of Natural History.

WHALES: Scale of Listening

How does a Blue Whale, the largest creature on earth, perceive its deep ocean world.
Air Date:10/17/1997
Scientist:
Transcript:

We're listening to the call of a Blue Whales. Because the sounds are so slow and so deep, we need to speed the recording up in order to perceive the pitch and rhythm of the whale's call in its entirety. Well, it raises the intriguing question of how the blue whale - the largest creature on earth - perceives its world. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by the American Museum of Natural History.

Chris Clark is director of the Bioacoustics Research Program at Cornell University.

"Close your eyes and imagine getting up out of your seat or wherever you are now, and walking into the next room. Going down the hallway. Going to the front of the house. Getting in the car etc. You can see it. You can bring that whole string of visual imagery right into your mind. Now imagine if I said, 'Forget your eyes. Do it with your ears. Imagine hearing your way out of the room. Out of the house. Into the car.' and you'd say, 'That's not comprehensible.'. But that is what a whale does. When a Blue Whale needs to go from one part of the ocean to another it uses its acoustic memory. Its acoustic vision to move from one place to another. To reconstruct and compare the present acoustic vision as to what it has in its mind, that it learned ten, twenty, thirty, forty years ago."

"The ocean is not a homogeneous body of water. It's a very distinctive, layered circulating weather system. The whales have to learn it and they have to live in it. And the way they know about it is with sound. Because they can perceive objects hundreds of miles away. And they can image their world on scales that are two, three, four orders of magnitude greater than anything that you and I can do."

Pulse of the Planet is presented by the American Museum of Natural History.