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Best of Blue Dot: Whale-SETI: a communications interaction with Twain the Humpback Whale

Jodi Frediani

In this very special episode, Host Dave Schlom visits with three researchers who were part of an incredible series of experimental communications with a humpback whale off the coast of Alaska.

Animal behavior scientist Brenda McCowan joins Dave from the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, Fred Sharpe from the WhaleSETI Team and Laurance Doyle from the SETI Institute in Mountain View, CA.

All three were co-authors of the paper, “Interactive Bioacoustic Playback as a Tool for Detecting and Exploring Nonhuman Intelligence: “Conversing” with an Alaskan Humpback Whale," which was recently published in the journal Peer J. After serendipitously getting recordings of a pod of whales including a female named Twain, the researchers used hydrophones to playback the whale's communications.

They received astounding interactions with the female Humpback whale. You'll find Twain's behaviors and vocalizations eerie and fascinating. The study has major implications for the possibilities of interspecies communications on Earth and beyond as part of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. 

Dave Schlom is the longtime host and creator of Blue Dot. From surfing to Voyager in interstellar space, rock guitar to orcas in our imperiled oceans, the topics on Blue Dot are as varied as the host’s interests and connections -- which are pretty limitless! An internationally respected space history journalist, Dave is also deeply fascinated by all aspects of the grand workings of nature’s awesome machinery on scales ranging from galactic to subatomic. And topics take in all aspects of the arts and sciences.
Matt Fidler is a producer and sound designer with over 15 years’ experience producing nationally distributed public radio programs. He has worked for shows such as Freakonomics Radio, Selected Shorts, Studio 360, The New Yorker Radio Hour and The Takeaway. In 2017, Matt launched the language podcast Very Bad Words, hitting the #28 spot in the iTunes podcast charts.