Can Whales And Humans Collaborate On Research?

Sperm whale family © Corey Ford/iStockphoto

James Nestor raises the possibility of full-on collaboration between human observers and wild whales in research on whale communication.

Nestor joined the DareWin Project in which free-divers enter the ocean to observe sperm whales and record their clicks — echolocation sounds and coda clicks that allow these mammals to investigate their world and talk to each other. In free diving, people enter the water with no equipment — and stay submerged for three to five minutes on the strength of one breath.

Nestor writes in language shot through with pleasure at the cross-species connections he has established – freed of the “limiting” nature of observing the whales from a boat — and at the possibilities to come in the future.

All parties agree: These whales are “extraordinarily intelligent, fully conscious beings,” to use Nestor’s words. I’m not totally free of concerns about this free-diving project. But the idea of collaborative research with wild animals is extremely exciting.

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© Barbara J King / NPR.org