Passion and Purpose
Freedom and Fulfillment
Love and Relationships
Animal Communication ~ How to Speak Whale
On September 12, 2015, Tom and a friend were on a guided kayak tour in Monterey Bay, off the coast of California. There was so much food in the rich waters of the bay that whales were engaged in an feeding frenzy. As kayaks and boats shared the water with the whales, a humpback breached and came down on Tom and his friend. They survived, but this experience sent Tom—a biologist by training—on an exciting journey of exploring the question - Could we communicate with whales and other animals?
Drawing from his experience as a naturalist and wildlife filmmaker, Tom started investigating human-whale interactions around the world - when he met two tech entrepreneurs who wanted to use artificial intelligence (AI) – originally designed to translate human languages – to discover patterns in the conversations with animals and decode them. As he embarked on this new journey into animal eavesdropping technologies, where big data meets big beasts, Tom discovered that there is a revolution taking place in biology, as the technologies developed to explore our own languages are turned to nature.
Excerpts published in Tom's book in:
Boston Globe: https://www.bostonglobe.com/2022/08/23/magazine/after-humpback-whale-crashed-top-me-my-kayak-i-set-out-learn-how-they-communicate/
Hakai Magazine: https://hakaimagazine.com/features/in-the-mind-of-a-whale/
Interview: Interspecies Conversations lecture series
FB Community Create the Life you Love: https://www.facebook.com/CreatetheLifeyouLove1/
The Intention Experiment by Lynne McTaggart
The True Power of Water: Healing and Discovering Ourselves by Masaru Emoto
[00:03] Moira: Welcome to the Heart Soul Wisdom Podcast, a journey of self discovery and transformation. Moira Sutton and her amazing guests share real life stories, tools, and strategies to inspire and empower you to create and live your best life. Come along on the journey and finally, blast through any fears, obstacles, and challenges that have held you back in the past so you can live your life with the joy, passion, and happiness that you desire. Now, here's your host. Create the life you love. Empowerment life coach moira Sutton. Welcome to the Heart Soul Wisdom Podcast, a journey of self discovery and transformation. Moira Sutton and her amazing guests share real life stories, tools, and strategies to inspire and empower you to create and live your best life. Come along on the journey and finally, blast through any fears, obstacles, and challenges that have held you back in the past so you can live your life with the joy, passion, and happiness that you desire. Now, here's your host. Create the life you love. Empowerment Life Coach Moira Sutton.
[01:39] Moira: Welcome to season four, episode 74: Animal Communication - How to Speak Whale with our very special guests, naturalist, filmmaker, and writer Tom Mustill. On September 12, 2015, Tom, and a friend of his were on a guided kayak tour in Monterey Bay off the coast of California. There was so much food in the rich waters of the bay for the whales that engaged in a feeding frenzy. As kayaks and boats shared the water with the whales, a humpback breached and came down on Tom and his friend. They survived, but this experience sent Tom, a biologist, by training on an exciting new journey of exploring. The question that arose could we communicate with whales and other animals? Drawing from his experience as a naturalist and wildlife filmmaker, tom started investigating human whale interactions around the world. Wendy met two tech entrepreneurs who wanted to use artificial intelligence AI, originally designed to translate human languages, to discover patterns in the conversations with animals and decode them. As he embarked on this new journey into animal eavesdropping technologies, where big data meets big beasts in Wales, tom discovered that there is a revolution taking place in biology as the technologies developed to explore our own languages are turned to nature. So, without further ado, it is my pleasure to introduce you to Tom Mustill. Welcome, Tom.
[03:27] Tom: Thank you very much for having me.
[03:29] Moira: Thank you. You've been very flexible with me with time schedules and stuff, and I appreciate it.
[03:34] Tom: No worries at all.
[03:35] Moira: Yes, I've decided with my family, I'm taking the summer off to be with my family and my 95-year-old mom and kayak, and just enjoy our beautiful Nova Scotia, which we've only been here just over a year and a half, so we're going to go through. There's lots of forests here, water everywhere, so it's really beautiful.
[03:57] Tom: Oh, wow. That sounds a world away from Hackney in London, where I live some water, but it doesn't sound as nice as that.
[04:05] Moira: I do love London, though. I love England with theater and everything like that. That's absolutely a biggie that we don't really have that here. And we don't ever go to it, though.
[04:16] Tom: I mean, I live here, and I never go to the theater. I've got a two-year-old daughter, and I like, Why? I mainly just want to go outside. That's what she says when she wakes up. She says outside. And that's what I want to do, too. Yeah. So maybe I should live in Nova Scotia as well.
[04:30] Moira: Well, you're welcome here anytime. And what a wise two-year-old she is. Yeah. Okay, so let's start at the beginning here, going back to your experience on September 12, 2015, that really changed the trajectory of your life in many ways, I think.
[04:48] Tom: Absolutely.
[04:50] Moira: So, let's start there, like that whole experience.
[04:53] Tom: Okay, well, I was kayaking in a two-person kayak with my friend Charlotte in Monterey Bay, California, and we were on a whale watching trip with a tour. I've been visiting Monterey Bay because there's a laboratory there where they develop robots and other machines to study sea life. And when I've been visiting the laboratory, it's called the, MBARI, or the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, the engineer who was showing me these underwater robots looked out the window and said, oh, wow, there's a lot of humpbacks here. You should go on a kayak tour. That's really the way to see them. I got the last tickets for the following morning's trip, and we went out, and it was very calm, sort of incredibly peaceful morning. It was very foggy and chilly as it is there in Moss Landing, which is about halfway between the city of Monterey and Santa Cruz. And we went out, and there were just dozens and dozens and dozens of humpbacks, all feeding of this big pool of fish. And you have to be really careful around marine mammals to keep a distance. We tried our best and made little, like, banged our hands on our kayaks. They knew where we were. But it's quite difficult when whales suddenly start popping up all around you to know where to paddle. But we had an absolutely magical morning, and the whales were just feeding and feeding and feeding. And I'm a biologist by training, and I've been a wildlife filmmaker for a couple of decades, and so I've been fortunate to be around whales quite a lot, but I had never really seen anything like that. And then after a couple of hours, it was time to go back to the harbor. So, we started paddling home away from the sea and away from where all the whales were, when this humpback whale came out of nowhere and breached, which is when they throw their bodies entirely out of the water. And it came up about sort of two kayak lengths away from us. And I realized that it was going to come down and land directly on top of us. And I didn't really have much time to think of anything apart from well, I noticed all of the grooves in its skin and all the texture, and I just thought, oh, okay, we're going to die now. Yeah. And then I was underwater being sort of whirled around, and then I felt the whale move away, and I swam back up the surface. We're down for about eight or 9 seconds, and it was body when it went down, it pulled us both with it. And I popped up, and Charlotte was there, and she was totally fine, and I was totally fine. The kayak wasn't fine. It had, like, a really big dent. The whole front of it had been smooshed in somehow. We were both okay. So that was the beginning of quite a lot of adventures.
[07:48] Moira: So, what was your understanding now, that moment, why that whale chose sort of to breach upon you and Charlotte?
[07:57] Tom: Why it chose to breach? Well, I don't think it chose to breach upon us. I think whales don't really breach onto things. I think they tend to breach in order to just splash back down in the water.
[08:09] Moira: Okay.
[08:09] Tom: It's quite a vulnerable thing for them to do when humpback whales, which are about 30ft long, about 30 tons humpback whales, about a ton of foot when they're threatened. And there are very few things in the ocean that can threaten them. But white sharks, tiger sharks, and most of all, orcas or killer whales. When they're threatened by them, they use their big pectoral fins, which are their kind of arms, which are about 3 meters long, 10ft long, and the biggest arm that's ever existed, actually. Or falling, rather. And they use them like the kind of karate chop, and they swoosh their tails around, kind of like those dinosaurs that defend themselves by swooshing their tails around. They don't breach really aggressively. So, I asked quite a few scientists what was going on and why it happened. I had two questions. One was, why do whales breach in general? And the second was, why didn't we die? And they have no answer to the first question. We don't know why whales breach. There are lots of theories, maybe for fun, for communication, for the dislodging of parasites on their skin, but they're all theories, and they don't hold up in all circumstances. So probably they breach for lots of different reasons, but violence and aggression doesn't appear to be one of them. When they are violent or aggressive, they don't reach, at least, I don't think so. I have not heard of that. And why we'd survive. Well, in a sort of very strange coincidence, somebody was filming on their cell phone back towards the shore, and they captured the moment where the well landed on us. And actually, somebody else was filming from the shore, and somebody else on a boat, took photographs, so it was sort of very well documented, but we didn't realize that until quite some time later. But reviewing the videos and the photos, scientists pointed out that the whale was executing its breach, where it does a big turn, then it whirls its body around in the air and it saw us and then it arched away, and then that's why it only glanced us. And that made sense to me, because the last thing I'd seen was it coming down directly on top of us. And from looking at its trajectory, it was clear that it was going to kill us when it landed on us, and it didn't. So that was very interesting to me. Firstly, that the whale had changed its course and I was interested in why. And secondly, that this giant animal does this extraordinary thing, and nobody knows why.
[10:58] Moira: Were you like, really? You must have been really shaken up. For one thing, being there with all those whales and you're just in a kayak, you're not even a big boat. I would think that would be pretty scary, just being in the bay. Yeah.
[11:11] Tom: You know what? I don't know if I'm a bit peculiar, but I don't really get very scared. I mean, I am very vigilant and alert and aware that you're around a lot of wild animals and you're in their domain. But then, for my job, I've spent a lot of time on foot with elephants and sometimes even with lions, and in Uganda and around wild chimpanzees who can be really scary in the forests of Uganda. And I've been with desert lions in Namibia, filming them hunting giraffes, when I've just been sat on the roof of a normal kind of car, like an estate car, where they could just come and pick me up if they wanted to. And those are really intense. And I've been like I've climbed up big trees in the jungle and been up there where other big animals are around me, and I've been in quite vulnerable situations. I didn't feel very vulnerable because the whales, well, they weren't doing any breaches near us. The only breaches we saw were far out to sea, and when we were in the shallow water, it didn't seem likely that a whale would breach. And also, the whales were concentrating so intently on feeding, so we would just see them when they'd come up and they were hunting in groups of two or three, and they'd just go and then disappear back under the water again. So, there was a lot of adrenaline, but I didn't feel as afraid as I mean, I'm not like a nutcase. Like, I get scared of scary things, but it didn't feel like a scary thing at the time until then.
[12:52] Moira: Tom, what was it like growing up in your family? Were you influenced by your parents? Because here you're drawn to nature animals. When you were a little boy, did you say, this is what I want to be when I grow up?
[13:08] Tom: It's really hard to know. My mum has always been very outdoorsy, and her family, we'd always go for big walks, and they were always embarrassing me by, like, stripping off all their clothes and jumping into lakes. I did a lot of learning to swim in the sea and the south coast of the UK. I've always felt very at home in nature. My grandfather lived in the Yorkshire Dales, which is a sort of kind of hilly area of the north of England, and we used to visit him for many of our holidays and go for walks there and swim in the river. And I'd find, like, ducks sitting on their eggs. And I remember and also, just like growing up in London, we were fortunate. We had a garden. And so, I lie on the grass and watch the ants and we had a pet cat, and I'd follow her around called Cleo, seeing what she was interested in. And there were frogs in the garden and big spiders in the old shed. And I think many of my childhood most vivid experiences are nature experiences, but I guess it didn't stand out to me because it just seemed such an obvious thing to be interested in. And also, other kids were interested in nature, too, so I didn't feel like it was strange for me to be interested. It was just like, why wouldn't you be interested in the living world? But, I mean, I get as I'm also a city boy, a Londoner, still here now, almost 40 years later. So, in some ways it wasn't as obvious as a thing. But, I mean, I grew up in this gigantic park called Hanford Heath as well, which is like it's enormous and hilly and it has forests, and it has swimming ponds in it and there's bats at night and all sorts of birds. So, although I was in this big giant city, I actually felt like I had quite an outdoors, nature filled childhood. Not as much as if I lived where you live, but it was enough for me.
[15:17] Moira: Well, I grew up in Toronto, which yes, and I never really liked the city other than theater in good restaurants, but my parents bought 100 acres, cobra area, which is about an hour and a half. It was from our home. And I used to wander on the land and down by the stream and you were safe and there was a freedom about it. And I always liked that. I liked the country. And I married somebody who came from the country, but he sort of had country city boy in him. Yeah. And Nova Scotia, as I said, we've only been here just over a year and a half, and the people here are very similar to how you talk, like what you shared, because they walk here everywhere. We're in the country, we're on a lake and they're just outdoor. They're outdoor people. So down here there's a different way of being. And it takes me back to being a little girl on the farm. So, it's absolutely heaven to me. Yes.
[16:17] Tom: Well, I've got a little daughter and we're expecting another daughter in a couple of months.
[16:22] Moira: Congratulations.
[16:23] Tom: Thank you. And I'm really aware that I struggle a lot with her in that if we leave the house, I have to make sure she holds my hand if she wants to walk or put her in her pram or watch out for all the kind of dog mess or broken glass and stuff. That's just part of living in a giant city and all these frictions. I had to visit some friends who lived in the countryside the other week, and I thought, these aren't because I'm bad or these frictions aren't because either of us is doing anything wrong. It's because it's very hard to do the things we like to do here. I love the idea of how being able to just run around without sort of an adult having to keep a BDI on her. These thoughts are very much in my mind now. Like what kind of childhood is allows freedom, but then I don't want to be bored. It's really nice being seeing all the different kinds of people. I think it's really important to have exposure to all the different diversity of human life as well as the living.
[17:32] Moira: We find here that people also wave. They walk along the road. There's no sidewalks here, and people wave and say hello. And it's the kind of neighborhood when we moved here, our neighbors are just unbelievable. Like, they showed up with wine and home baked buns and home baked jam and everyone's just there not nosy there for you. They kind of know, if you're in the city, do you want to pick up bread or milk? That kind of thing. Just unbelievable. It's just lovely.
[18:01] Tom: Well, you know what? We actually have that even though it's the city and we really crystallized during the pandemic when everybody was having to stay indoors and all the street, WhatsApp groups got together. But one of my great fears about moving from the city is actually the loss of community. And I think it probably for people who don't live in big cities or who've had more negative experiences. I find that we know all the neighbors on our street, and we have like, a book club, and very similarly, people help each other out and we drop our daughter off with our neighbors because they want to hang out with her. But I guess there's just much more turnover in cities, isn't there? So, these routes and connections require people to stay put, and if people are changing all the time, that's a lot harder.
[18:47] Moira: Yeah, we find more community here than we did in the city, but it's just your experience. And we're very people, but we also like our privacy in that whole area. Let's jump into mentorship. One of your mentors and somebody in your life was Roger Payne. Tell us who he was, what he discovered, and how did he influence you on this new journey that you took after your experience with the whale.
[19:13] Tom: Well, wow, big question. There's a lot of questions. Which one shall I start with?
[19:19] Moira: I do that. I'm a little chunker. When I studied NLP, there's big chunkers that just show something. Say the color that's yellow. And I'll go, that's yellow, that's tall, that's skinny, that's a little chunker in NLP.
[19:32] Tom: As a man around he's 88. So, Roger Payne is a whale scientist, where he's the scientist. He studied owls and other things. But really what he's best known for is the discovery that whales sing. And he was given these recordings from the Caribbean and the city of Bahamas, and he found that these incredible sounds that a US Navy hydrophone array had picked up were being made by whales. And he was a musician. And when he studied the sounds, he realized that they had repeated structures in them and that actually there was sort of like the ways that these repeated structures were arranged were very, very similar to human music. And there were other elements, like human music, like rhyme and rhythm and that the whales were performing these songs in bouts where they would sort of inhale swim down, sing the song for about 25 minutes, come to the surface and then only after they finish the song would they breathe again. And then they go down and sing it again. And they'd sing them for day after day after day and that all the humpbacks in all the worlds didn't sing. It seems to be mostly the males or all the males that do it, but that's not certain. And that each year these things evolve and change and that different singers come up with different variations that are heard by other whales and adopted into their songs. And this was a very important discovery because at the time that he made it, which is in the late 60s, early 70s, we were still industrially slaughtering all whales, and the humpbacks were going to go extinct. It's the biggest reduction in biomass of any species. Some populations of blue whales were reduced to less than 1% or less than a 10th of a percent in some cases. He wrote a paper, a scientific paper, which sort of laid out the rationale behind this discovery, and that was the front page of the periodical Science. But then what he really did was to go further than just being a scientist, and he became a sort of music PR guru, and he persuaded National Geographic magazine to print it inside their magazine. So, millions and millions of flexi discs were sent out there. His friend Carl Sagan put the recordings on the Voyager Space probes and sent them off into space. So, they're now on the furthest human object away from Earth in interstellar space, along with recordings of human greetings and pictures of us and the things we did and other messages from Earth. And they became a sort of viral hit. And people had whale song listening parties and apparently Dylan and the Beatles and Judy Collins and all sorts of people. And they were on like, I think, Johnny Carson show and things like that. So, the whales became a sort of cultural phenomenon. And because of that, the Nascent Saved the Whales movement was kind of born out of this idea that we are like them, we have kinship with them, their songs are like our songs, and they move us and are beautiful, so we should start slaughtering them. And the Saved Whales movement worked. And Greenpeace was also born around the same time out of similar people. Obviously, it wasn't just Roger. He was one of thousands of people who were involved in this work, but his job was really discovering that the whales sang and then helping to bring those songs into popular human culture. And eventually there is the moratorium on whaling, where the industrial killing of whales was drastically curtailed, though it hasn't ceased, and some countries are no longer abiding by that. But the whale populations on the whole bounce back. And it's a really beautiful story because it shows that this was a huge industry. The whale oil was lubricant, and we used it to light and illuminate our streets, and it was used as pet food and as fertilizer. It had loads and loads of uses. But there were lots of industries who did not want to stop hunting the whales and using them. But we did. And it was through empathy, ultimately. That was the spur. It wasn't some discovery about how few whales were left. It was about feeling this commonality with their song.
[24:18] Moira: I'm just taking that in, Tom, what you just said. Do you think whales can show emotions such as empathy and have a capacity for consciousness and similarities to humans?
[24:35] Tom: I think there's sort of two strands to answering questions like this about consciousness in other species. I think one is, what have we discovered scientifically that we can sort of use as evidence? And so, in terms of consciousness, like, one test that scientists use with humans and other animals to see if they have an idea of themselves is to hold a mirror up in front of them. And Diana Reese did this with dolphins. And in these so-called mirror recognition experiments, the question the scientists pose is does the person looking or animal looking into the mirror recognize that it's them that they see? Because some animals will just walk past or some will attack the reflection, seeing it, thinking it's arrival. But many animals do seem to understand that it's them. And a way of testing that is to put a little mark on the body of the animal that they can't see apart from in the mirror. Like on your face, for instance. You can't see if there's something on your face unless you look in the mirror. And then if you do that with an elephant, it will move its trunk and touch where the mark is when it sees it in the mirror. And indeed, that's what happened when she did it with dolphins. And they examined the mark in the mirror, but also they did other things that are kind of a bit more relatable. Like, they opened their mouth and waggled their tongues, and they sort of looked at bits of their bodies they couldn't normally see. And they also had sex in front of the mirror as well and did other sort of fun things that maybe a self-conscious animal might do when it was suddenly able to look at itself from a new angle. And there are loads of other studies about showing the cognitive capacities of whales, of dolphins. There's very few in whales because they're too big. And most of these studies have happened with captive animals like dolphins. In the wild, we see that they seem to exhibit signs of things like grieving. When a mother killer whale loses her calf, she sometimes will carry it around in her head for weeks. They'd like to get high, and some dolphins will sort of get pufferfish and intoxicate themselves on them and pass them round like a joint. If you have a highly functioning brain, maybe it's quite good to turn it off a little bit once in a while. And that's perhaps why humans’ self medicate in a variety of ways. And so, there's lots of evidence for them passing tests and showing indications that they know that they're there and they can follow complex commands and they can understand things that happen in the future or out of their sight or manipulate tools and care for one another. But I think the other strand, outside of just evidence that we've built up scientifically, is a slightly obvious one, which is like, why would we assume that they're not conscious? It's a very peculiar jump to make to say, okay, well, you are a large, brained mammal that faces environmental challenges like being born, growing up, finding your place, competing, collaborating, finding a mate, growing old, caring for the old, communicating. Those are the challenges of humans. But they're also the challenges of dolphins and whales. They also have giant brains, they also have social life. They also show lots of communication. They have similar nervous systems, similar senses. They're very different in other ways. Why would we assume that with similar evolutionary pressures and similar bodies and similar challenges that they don't feel similar things? I'm not saying the same thing. And there's a final really sort of big conundrum in consciousness, which is that no one can really describe it in humans. So we are essentially testing for something that we cannot define in ourselves. So that's also an added sort of spanner in the wrench of deciding who has consciousness in that we just decide we've got it because we feel it, but we can't really define what it is.
[28:51] Moira: I think from my own standpoint, I feel everything is, first of all, connected and that there's consciousness, like our forest, it's alive, it's real. The idea of hugging trees or anything with there's been studies where I'm trying to think of her name right now. I'll add it to the bottom, but yeah, I'll add her name down.
[29:17] Tom: But were they Marty thinking or like sort of in terms of tree communication?
[29:24] Moira: It was an experiment made with consciousness and that and also the consciousness of plants, where it could be out there down the road in a studio or something. And a person where, let's say I am but a person puts the intention out that it's going to love that plant, or it might be the intention that it's going to burn that plant, and the plant responds with just that distance. (The Intention Experiment by Lynne McTaggart) and it makes me think about, jeez, I never wrote these names down today for you, Tom. But with the experiment with water, a Japanese person who again, I'll put the name in the show notes and it's okay (The True Power of Water by Masaru Emoto). Where with water, if you put the intention into water, into like love and joy and peace and harmony, what happens to the crystals of the water, what they formed into versus if you had the word hate and anger and jealousy and war, different words associated with a different energy, it affected the water. So, I think that we're all connected. Like you said, if we destroy anything on our planet, it's destroying ourselves. It's because we're connected. It's interesting. I thought about the other day, I was telling somebody that you and I were going to have this heart conversation, and we thought about back. I don't know, you're younger than I am, so you might know the movie, but Star Trek Four, there was a movie called The Voyage Home.
[30:54] Tom: Oh, yeah, I'm very familiar with that.
[30:56] Moira: Yeah, it's a beautiful so I was watching some of it the other day and just that whole thing about going back, that they had to go back and get these two whales to save to bringing back into the future because the whales were in Earth, it was extinct. And just that whole thing again, about how we're connected and how extinction of one species affects every other species with this interconnectedness. And the show is all about raising the vibration and consciousness of each other to heal Mother Earth, Gaia humanity out to the universe and galaxies to animals, to everyone. So that's my gig. But that's a great movie for people to reach out to. Let's go and look at this idea of the biggest brains on the planet being whales. And you also got to study with different people here. There. Was one lady 2018, your friend Joy Reidenberg. Yes. She gave you the opportunity to explore a stillborn baby sperm whale. What was that like for you, that whole experience? What did it open up for you with possibilities in your mind?
[32:16] Tom: Well, she's a joy.
[32:19] Moira: That's nice.
[32:22] Tom: She's an absolute one off of a human being, and she's a comparative anatomist, and that is a person who compares the anatomy, the bodies of different species to each other or different parts of the anatomy. So, she teaches medicine at Mount Sinai. Sinai? In New York City? For medical students. But her sort of passion well, I think she loves teaching, but as well as that, her passion is to understand the bodies of whales and dolphins. And for centuries, really, we've only been able to understand those bodies when they wash up dead on our shores or when they were killed by whalers, who sometimes let scientists along to study the bodies. And these are all sad moments when whales die, especially if we're responsible for killing them. But Joy manages to work in these sad conditions and find out extraordinary things, because they are whales lived on the land alongside our ancestors just over 50 million years ago, 55 million years ago, and they are gradually we all came from the ocean originally, all land creatures, but the ancestors of the whales moved back into the ocean. But because they're mammals, they went back with lungs and warm blood and mammary glands. They have milk like us, which they used to feed their babies. So, they had to come up with a whole suite of adaptations. And they have really kind of conquered the oceans in that you find them in every part of every sea, including some, and also up some rivers. And they did that by changing their bodies. And some can dive very deep, so depths where human bodies would just be crushed, and others can see using echolocation like bats. And so, Joy invited me along to a really unusual experience, which was that when you cut into a body, you destroy it, and you cannot see how it all fits together once you've cut into it. But if you use a machine like a CT or MRI scanner, you can scan the intact body. And with parts of the body like the brain that are very sensitive, this can show the arrangement of much finer and more complicated structures. So, she had the calf of a sperm whale that had miscarried. And sperm whales are enormous. They're about the size of a school bus, so you could never fit one into a CT scanner. But this calf was just small enough to be placed in the CT scanner. So, she had got it from the Smithsonian Museum, who, I think, when it had washed up, had frozen it immediately, and so they had to gently defrost it, and then we had to take it through Mount Sinai before the patients came in. So about 04:00 in the morning and place it within the CT scanner and then they were able to scan inside its head and show its brain. And sperm whales have the biggest brain of any animal that's ever lived. But they are very different brains in some ways than us. Whales and dolphins have to sleep and see, but they have to keep breathing. So, the solution to that problem is that they put half of their brain to sleep at a time called hemispheric sleep. And then they'll come to the surface and take a breath and go down. And then once they've rested one part of their brain they'll switch over because of dating. It's incredible. Their brains are kind of more split in half than ours. We have these two hemispheres, and our hemispheres are joined by a thing called the corpus callosum. A kind of block of tissue between them. And the whales have a much thicker corpus callosum. So perhaps that's to allow them to take it in terms better. They don't really look at much in the sea. They're much more acoustically orientated to the parts of their brains to do with sending and receiving sound are much bigger and more wrinkly and more developed than ours. And they have other parts of their brain which and structures in their brain that are quite different from ours. And we can only really speculate what those differences mean. Some people think perhaps pilot whales which are very, very social and mass strand altogether, maybe they do that because they have such a sense of group identity that they find it impossible to be separated from each other and that they have an ability to think of identity that is different from us, like a social identity. It was sad because you had this tiny baby whale that had died but it was also beautiful because we were able to learn something from this death about these magnificent animals.
[37:42] Moira: That's quite the work that she does.
[37:46] Tom: She's been inside over 100 dead whales and I should say that they really smell terrible because by the time a whale has died and decomposed and washed up on a beach and been floating around for a while, it is absolutely appalling. Like, I've never smelled anything as bad as I've been on three of these dissections and it takes days, and you need like back hose and chainsaws and plant machinery just to get into the bodies and you have literally tons of intestines and sometimes they can explode and the smell is so overpowering. But Joy is impervious to her that she would just be eating. She actually gets hungry at these dissections like munching away on bananas while I was dry heaving. She is a tough human being, but she is just full of enthusiasm. She's just one of these she just is like it's like Christmas for her. It's like Hanukkah. She's just so excited by the opportunity of learning more.
[38:49] Moira: Wow. And to eat a banana around there.
[38:54] Tom: I mean that's nothing. Yeah, she just has like a sort of fanny pack that's full of like snacks underneath her big bright overall.
[39:04] Moira: Well, that's fantastic. Tom, we know that whales migrate. Where do they migrate from? Why do they migrate? And yeah, tell us a little bit about migration.
[39:20] Tom: Migration means when animals travel in a seasonal way and not all whales migrate. There are some populations that stay in the same place but really the things that appear to drive the migrations are that they have different needs at different parts of their life cycle. So, most food, if a whale is in cold water because cold deep waters, you might notice when you go in the ocean that if it's green there's lots and you can't see through it. But when it's blue you can see through that's because just like the sky, when it's blue it means there's nothing in it. That's why you can see through it. So tropical seas, the kind of empty of food really apart from in little outposts like coral reefs, but in the deeper, colder waters there's nutrients. And when those nutrients come into contact with sunlight, you get photosynthesis. And that's why there is green because you have plant life, and that plant life and algae supports food chains. So, when whales need to go and eat what they eat, which are animals further up those food chains like shrimp and fish and squid, they need to go to the cold waters. And if you're a whale you need to grow a big thick blubber coating around yourself to insulate yourself. But if you spend all your time in those nutrient rich waters, you can be vulnerable to predators, and you also can build up parasites and things on your skin. And it can also be hard to find others of your kind if you're spending your time eating. So many whales migrate to warmer tropical waters, and it appears that and then they mate and they compete and they perform and humpback whales sing, but they're just one species. And also, it seems that they use these trips like a sort of kind of skincare routine because they're like us, they have skin that's very similar to ours and in the sea that you can have all sorts of things coming and living in that skin. And if you can't really scratch yourself or groom yourself, you need to use the hot water for that. So, they go to the hot water in the tropics and that seems to discourage many of their parasites that fall off them. So, they migrate for a variety of reasons. And also, when they give birth, the babies, the calves, they don't have the thick blubber layer. So, they need to build up more of an insulating blubber layer before they're in the cold waters, especially for animals that hunt in the Arctic and places like that. And they need to avoid predators. So often they go to kind of places where there aren't animals that are going to come and hunt their babies.
[42:19] Moira: It's Mother Nature at its best, right? Everything is intertwined and interconnected and just how we it's like if we think about our own bodies, right? Like, we don't think every day our heart's beating or all the things that our organs are doing. It's just our bodies made to be human.
[42:40] Tom: Yeah. I mean, we're just always responding to change and responding to different pressures. And you don't need many, because I'm sure whales haven't done this for their whole life history, because they've been around for so long that their ancestors would have lived in very different seas. And so, as the seas change and what's in them has changed, the whales have changed, too, and they've changed their behaviors. And I think one really important thing to bear in mind is that whale biology has been around a lot less time than the study of whales has been around a lot less time than we've been killing them. So really, we've been studying quite shattered populations, both in their population dynamics and where they go, and also in their behaviors and their communications. So, we're seeing a lot of change as these populations bounce back and people say, oh, the whales are changing. They're going to different places, but really, probably they're just returning to where they used to be before. The songs we hear, they might be the songs of brutalized survivors. The songs that we might have heard 200 years ago could have been very different.
[43:49] Moira: So fascinating. Can you share with us the project.
[43:54] Tom: City, C-E-T-I should also mention that I wrote a book yes, sorry. It's called how to Speak Whale, which goes into the story of Roger Payne. Also, one of your last questions was that how did Roger help me? Roger basically told me his story, and then as a conservation biologist and somebody who's very interested in how stories can help nature, I thought his was absolutely outstanding. And then after the whale leapt on to me, people used artificial intelligence, a form of AI called deep learning to identify the whale by its tail, by photographs of its tail, which was a job previously done by people. And not only did they identify it using these AI tools, but they told me how old it was, where it was born, who its mother was, and I've been following its life ever since. So, I was very interested in how AI could also potentially help us form empathetic connections with other species. And Roger has been since then working with this project CETI, which is doing exactly that. They are trying to use tools, we've discovered, that work very well on humans for finding patterns in our languages, these AI tools. And their plan is to try to find out if these tools work and can find similar patterns in the complex communications of wells. And to do this, they're trying to record the biggest ever animal behavior data set, because these tools only work on big data, so you need huge amounts of recordings of conversations and examples, and then you don't need to tell the tools how to find patterns. They find patterns that we can't see and draw our attention to them. So, Roger is working with this project, and it's underway at the moment in Dominica, where they're recording a resident population of sperm whales, which is an example of a whale that doesn't migrate. These whales live there all year round because they have both warm water on the surface for the calves and deep food rich water deep down below for the adults to feed on. Really, you can think a lot when you hear AI, and there are lots of extremely dubious and negative uses of these technologies, but in a very broad way, these are in the way they're being used here. These are tools that find patterns in large amounts of information, and they are able to process more information than human beings can, and they notice patterns that we don't. And that's really, really helpful in trying to understand the communications of another species, because we're very limited. We're stuck with our human ideas of what language is. So that stops us from seeing language where it's all around us, potentially, and we are stuck with our human lifespans and senses, which also makes it really hard for us to process millions of hours of sperm whale conversation and listen to them properly. So, yeah, that's project CETI and Rogers hope and the hope of the 40 odd biologists who were doing that project, that were conservationists, if they could have a similar effect with that study as with the songs of the humpback whale 50 years ago that we will, by understanding what other animals are saying, feel more connected to them and more inclined to change our lives and inconvenience ourselves on their behalf.
[47:56] Moira: So beautiful. What was it like for you when they discovered your whale, the one named Prime Suspect?
[48:06] Tom: I should say that I feel bad about calling it Prime Suspect. That was a joke.
[48:10] Moira: Oh, it sounds like a joke.
[48:11] Tom: It doesn't sound yeah, okay, good. Well, fortunately, the whale will never find out that we nicknamed him Prime Suspect. But it was extraordinary for me because as a biologist, I spent my life trying to follow animals around and learn about their lives and tell their stories. And here you have this giant animal that jumps out the sea, lands on you, and then leaves. And with each passing year, I find out more about that whale. Like I've been following it in its migration of Mexico up into California these past few weeks. And I think in my story of how I've now learned more about this one animal, this wild animal that's unaware of my existence and living its own very different life, there's a kind of wider story about we are going into the interspecies age. That's how many people working in this sphere describe it? Where the paradigm of how we relate to other species shifts from this industrial paradigm of using other species and viewing them as kind of biological machines to considering them. As other sentient beings who have different forms of consciousness and different forms of communication and different forms of feelings and that we fit into a sort of wider living galaxy of experience. And I think if you have a bird feeder, you can now use on your phone an app called Merlin, and you can record the calls of the birds that visit, and it will use AI to tell you what species they are. Or you can take photographs of the plants in your backyard, and AI will tell you what species they are, and soon they will tell you what individual animals they are. And that is very helpful, because if you think all squirrels or raccoons are the same, you might not feel connected to them. Humans don't do very well when we just think of large numbers of others. We tend to relate to individual stories. But each animal is a person and has a personality, and being able to tell them apart is a key stage. If you're going to empathize, there's, like, some really interesting work done on prairie dogs where the researchers started listening to the shouts that the prairie dogs made when people approached them. And they realized that the prairie dogs appeared to have different ways of describing the different people approaching. Maybe even things like adjectives or descriptors, like woman or tall or big or red, things like that. And the biologist Karen Baker, she said, it appears that some other species are better at describing the differences between humans than humans are at describing the difference between them. I think that's really such a great way of framing that.
[51:05] Moira: Yes, you go into that about algorithms and how, like you just said, with words in that, like, if there's red tall, how it goes into different areas, and how these technologies, AI and algorithms and measuring all this, it just gives so much more data that we can dive deeper and deeper.
[51:27] Tom: Yeah, I think they're really complementary tools. I think they're not good. None of these tools are going to be replacing humans anytime soon. If you're a biologist, you can get lost in all your data. Now that you are able to record constantly videos and audio recordings and GPS recordings and all sorts of other things, we need help in drawing our attention to meaningful things within those recordings. And that's what these algorithms because the algorithms can be used for loads of different things. I think people jump to thinking of AI. As being I mean, there's a lot of very important conversation now about artificial general intelligence, which is this idea that some AI systems will be given the opportunity to improve themselves, and that if they consistently can improve themselves, they can essentially make themselves more intelligent than us. And because they don't need to sort of eat or sleep and they work really quickly and they're connected to all human knowledge, they could basically become superhuman and then destroy all of us. And that's a really scary idea and there is a lot of really good reason for being very, very scared of it. Those I think it's really important in the conversation about AI being used with trying to decode animal communications that that's not the kind of thing that's going on there. Really these are kind of statistical tools that draw scientists’ attention to patterns in their information. But in time, it could be very easily possible to so it might well be possible that these computer tools have a form of intelligence and will be able to make contact with other species on our behalf. If we make the machines for them to do that with, should we do that? Should we speak to other species? If we can, would that disrupt them? If so, how should we do it? How long should we listen before we choose to speak? These are all really important questions. And partly why I wrote how to Speak Whale was that so that people could take the technology seriously enough. They want to get involved in the conversation about how we should use the technology and whether there's some lines we don't want to cross for fear of disrupting the lives of other species. I think probably the most important question is sort of who owns the technology and the information? I think these should not be privately owned, should not be corporate endeavors. And that's very important. And Project CETI is an open-source project and it's between lots and lots of different public universities around the world. So, I think it's a good example of people who are being very careful about this.
[54:18] Moira: I know you talk about that, about sharing information, what you just said not to be people come together to share the information. Not somebody, just one person owns it. And it could be used in not a good way because one of the things I wrote here with emerging technologies and how tech is transforming our understanding of in relationship to the natural world, one of your feelings was how can we protect the living world from new powers and make sure if we make contact through technology, we do not harm or exploit them? I thought that was a very important part that you stated in your book.
[54:56] Tom: Thank you. I'm really glad that you've picked up on that because that is really important to me. We have a very bad track record of unintended consequences. Even well-meaning interactions have had some really bad effects. And so, yeah, I think we should be really careful, but I think people are being really careful, but what's most important is lots and lots of different people take this stuff seriously. I'm afraid I've got to actually phone Roger Payne now, would you like me to read a bit from the book?
[55:32] Moira: I would love you to read something and thank you, Tom. I know we started a little bit later at the beginning with my hot lemon drink, yes, please read.
[55:41] Tom: No problem whatsoever. I think read a little bit from towards the end of the book. Okay.
[55:50] Moira: Thank you.
[55:50] Tom: And hopefully your listeners will have sort of picked up enough from our conversation to be able to place this. But obviously, if you want to find out more, you should read how to Speak Whale the Future of Animal Communication.
[56:07] Moira: Yes and we are going to add links for excerpts that were published in your book, Haiki Magazine, Boston Globe and . That all be there. But yes, please read. I'm going to just sit back and enjoy.
[56:18] Tom: Sure. Okay. Over the years since coming around to believing in the possibility of animal communication, I have of course, bugged scientists with the unanswerable question, one you may also be asking at the end of this book. So, when will we be able to speak to animals? I asked Britt and Azer. They're two of the computer scientists in the book. They, along with everyone else working in this field, have no response for now. But using a slightly longer timescale, I asked them what they felt could reasonably exist in the world by the time my unborn daughter was our age in 2055. And here's what they said nature documentaries could be subtitled. Ships can speak to whales, dolphins, orca, and other marine mammals to let them know of our approach, reducing deadly ship strike to a minimum. New perspectives of what it means to be alive, to love, to live on this shared planet are integrated into human culture. Changing the perspective of ourselves and our identity as a species, we learn that we are not alone in the universe. We gain deep new insight into the plural nature of consciousness. Reading this put me in the minds of the words of Mark Twain. For the majority of us, the past is a regret. The future and experiment our past with these giant animals has indeed been regretful. I'd like us to make our future a hopeful and ambitious experiment. Perhaps soon enough there will be a breakthrough that later we will point out as significant. An app that analyzes your dog's face will become huge. And the vast revenues of the pet industry, which is now comparable in size to the arms industry, drives a revolution in animal decoding. Tech. DeepMind or Open AI will decide that. Cracking a two-way conversation with a dolphin is its next aim, bringing its colossal human expertise and computing power a toolkit of user friendly general purpose, AIS is made available to biologists and citizens from spreads around the world, harvesting patterns from the world around us on unprecedented scales. And can those humans who share this endeavor resist pressures to keep their discoveries secret, their data closed off to hoard funding and to hog acclaim. Will the better angels of our nature guide us as we decode nature? What is certain is we will continue to find patterns in nature, and we will continue to be surprised by learning that other species can do things we previously thought our own unique preserve. But while our tech develops, as our inclination to look deepens, as our understanding of how little we have found increases, as we see more and our questions proliferate, will this be in step with the destruction of what we are studying? To be alive and discover nature now is to read by the light of a library as it burns. Could our discoveries prompt us to put out the flames? The truth is that you and I, the ones alive right now, will see.
[59:46] Moira: That’s just beautiful. Thank you, Tom. Thank you. And thank you for sharing from your heart and soul today your wisdom on animal communication and how to speak whale.
[59:58] Tom: Namaste.
[59:59] Moira: Thank you. You're welcome. Namaste.
[01:00:08] Outro: Thank you for listening to the Heart Soul Wisdom podcast with Moira Sutton. I hope you enjoyed today's episode. Please join our firstname.lastname@example.org and continue the discussion on our Facebook page. Create the life you love. You will be part of a global movement connecting with other heart centered people who are consciously creating the life they love on their own terms. Together, we can raise our consciousness for the greater good of humanity and for our planet. Thank you for listening to the Heart Soul Wisdom podcast with Moira Sutton. I hope you enjoyed today's episode. Please join our email@example.com and continue the discussion on our Facebook page. Create the life you love. You will be part of a global movement connecting with other heart centered people who are consciously creating the life they love on their own terms. Together, we can raise our consciousness for the greater good of humanity and for our planet in it.