Sperm Whales Clicking You Inside Out — James Nestor at The Interval


A sperm whale can click at about 236 decibels. It’s the loudest animal on the planet. Sperm whales can hear each other in the ocean from hundreds even thousands of miles away. Some researchers believe that they’re able to keep in contact with one another through these clicks on other sides of the planet. These clicks are so powerful in the water that they can blow out your eardrums easily. And they could actually vibrate a human body to death. So when you’re diving with them it’s a little sketchy. What I’m going to show you now is a video of some freedivers that I ended up hanging out with. I wasn’t with them during this expedition, but I was about six months later. We went on a trip together and I had the same experience. So clicks you’re going to be hearing are not coming from a boat. They aren’t coming from a camera. These are the whales clicking these guys literally from the inside out to see what they’re all about. And the clicks were so powerful that one of these guys put out his hand to stop a whale from running into him. And his hand actually was paralyzed for about four hours afterwards. So he learned not to keep out his hand in front of him when he was diving. This is an emerging discipline of research and it’s pretty sketchy. This is what it’s like. I’m not going to talk over this. We’re going to play this kind of loud, so you can really get an experience of what this is all about. So you’re going to notice the whale is going to flip on its belly. That’s where it collects those echoes, underneath its jaw. They don’t use ears under water. We get a really good look at him right now. Okay, so i know what you’re thinking: why the hell would anyone want to do that? I know that was pretty loud for all of us, but trust me in the water it’s like four million times louder. Once you’re hanging out with the whales for a long time–this didn’t happen to me, but it happened to these guys, their bodies started heating up from being pelleted with all of that energy, after a while. Again this is pretty sketchy stuff. It’s strange to do. But it’s important to note that these guys are fascinated by whales. They don’t necessarily want to freedive with them this closely. But they have to because it turns out the only way to really study these animals up close is by freediving with them. By approaching them in your natural form and interacting with them in that way. SCUBA doesn’t work, it’s too loud. Submarines don’t work; same thing. Robots don’t work; they freak them out. But when you freedive with them, this amazing paradigm shift occurs. And they not only don’t swim away, but most of the time the whales will turn around and welcome you into the pod. Sometimes they orient themselves vertically and do this very weird sort of New Age thing around you. As they’re clicking. It’s extremely intense. So the next question you’re probably asking yourself is like why research sperm whales? Well it turns out that those clicks you heard they aren’t just used for echolocation. Sperm whales and dolphins also use clicks for communication. And inside of those clicks is probably one of the most sophisticated forms of communication we’ve discovered on the planet. Could be more sophisticated than human language. Now I know that sounds completely nuts to all of you. And certainly sounded nuts to me when I first started researching this stuff a couple of years ago. But just consider a couple things. The sperm whale brain is about six times the size of ours. This is a picture of sperm whales facing us head-on. And that top thing is their nose and behind that is their brain. Now sperm whales also have a neocortex. In humans the neocortex is believed to govern higher level functions like conscious thought, future planning, and language. Well sperm whales not only have a neocortex, but theirs is about six times the size of ours. Sperm whales also have spindle cells. These are long and highly developed brain structures that neurologists have associated with compassion, love, suffering, and… you guessed it.. speech. All of those things that make humans human. And separate us from great apes. Well sperm whales not only have spindle cells, but have them in a far larger quantity than we do. And they’ve had them for 15 million years longer than we have.

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