The Whale Song Project (Whale FM)

The Whale Song Project (Whale FM)

Citizen scientists can help study whale communications and pass along their observations through the Whale Song Project (aka Whale FM), a whale-song identification project that Scientific American launched in partnership with the Citizen Science Alliance (CSA). The Whale Song Project, available as part of the CSA’s suite of Zooniverse citizen-science projects, is designed specifically to assist in killer (Orca) and pilot whale research being conducted by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts and the Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. The Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research has likewise played a role in organizing the Whale Song Project, working with Woods Hole to coordinate data collection and preparing that data for use by citizen scientists.

Through the Whale Song Project, citizen scientists are presented with a whale call and shown where it was recorded on a map of the world’s oceans and seas. After listening to the whale call—represented on screen as a spectrogram showing how the pitch of the sound changes with time—citizen scientists are asked to listen to a number of potential matching calls from the project’s database. If a match is found, the citizen scientist clicks on that sound’s spectrogram and the results are stored.

The dataset generated by this project should help scientists to answer a number of questions regarding whale communication. For example, researchers want to know the size of the pilot whales’ call repertoire and whether repertoire size is a sign of intelligence. In addition, researchers seek to understand whether the two different types of pilot whales—long fin and short fin—have different call repertoires, and, if so, whether this signifies a distinct dialect.

Project Details

  • PRINCIPAL SCIENTIST: Peter Tyack, Scientist Emeritus
  • SCIENTIST AFFILIATION: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
  • DATES: Ongoing
  • PROJECT TYPE: Data Processing
  • COST: Free
  • GRADE LEVEL: All Ages

    Citizen scientists can sign up to participate in the Whale Song Project using their existing Scientific American or Zooniverse logins and passwords, or they can create new Scientific American or Zooniverse accounts.

See more projects in FreeData ProcessingAll Ages.

What Is Citizen Science?

Research often involves teams of scientists collaborating across continents. Now, using the power of the Internet, non-specialists are participating, too. Citizen Science falls into many categories. A pioneering project was SETI@Home, which has harnessed the idle computing time of millions of participants in the search for extraterrestrial life. Citizen scientists also act as volunteer classifiers of heavenly objects, such as in Galaxy Zoo. They make observations of the natural world, as in The Great Sunflower Project. And they even solve puzzles to design proteins, such as FoldIt. We'll add projects regularly—and please tell us about others you like as well.

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