Can We Learn To Talk With Whales? Introducing Project CETI
Inspired by “search for extraterrestrial intelligence” or SETI, project leader Dr. David Gruber and an eclectic band of scientists and researchers seek to decipher the language of sperm whales, which might be described as enigmatic aliens living in our midst. To do this, they are applying the latest technology including AI, cryptography, machine learning, and robotics.
Header image: Sperm whales socializing. Photo by Brian J. Skerry
Project CETI (Cetacean Translation Initiative), a non-profit organization, with the help of the 2020 TED Audacious Project, is applying advanced machine learning and gentle robotics to decipher the communication of the world’s most enigmatic ocean species: the sperm whale. In interpreting their voices and hopefully communicating back, we aim to show that today’s most cutting-edge technologies can be used to beneﬁt not only humankind, but other species on this planet. By enabling humans to deeply understand and protect the life around us, we thereby redeﬁne our very understanding of the word “we.”
As with the Earthrise photo from Project Apollo, CETI’s discoveries and progress have the potential to signiﬁcantly reshape humanity’s understanding of its place on this planet. By regularly sharing our ﬁndings with the public—through partners like the National Geographic Society—CETI will generate a deeper wonder for Earth’s matrix of life on earth, and provide a uniquely strong boost to the new phase of broader environmental movement.
Founded and led by scientists, CETI has brought together leading cryptographers, roboticists, linguists, AI experts, technologists and marine biologists to:
● Develop the most delicate robotics technologies, including partnership with National Geographic Society’s Exploration Technology Lab to listen to whales and put their sounds into context.
● Deploy a “Core Whale Listening System,” a novel hydrophone array to study a population of whales in a 20×20 kilometer ﬁeld site.
● Build on substantial data on the whales’ sounds, social lives, and behavior already obtained by the Dominica Sperm Whale Project.
● Create a bespoke, big data pipeline to examine the recorded data and decode it using advanced machine learning, natural language processing and data science.
● Launch a public interface, data visualization, communications platform and leadership initiative in collaboration with key partners to engage and foster the global community.
WHY SPERM WHALES?
Sperm whales have the largest brains of any species and share traits strikingly similar to humans. They have higher-level functions such as conscious thought and future planning, as well as speech and feelings of compassion, love, suffering and intuition. They live in matriarchal and multicultural societies and have dialects and strong multigenerational family bonds. Modern whales have been great stewards of the ocean environment for more than 30 million years, having been here for ﬁve times longer than the earliest hominids. Our understanding of these animals is just beginning.
In the late 1960s, scientists, including principal CETI advisor Dr. Roger Payne, discovered that whales sing to one another. His recordings, Songs of the Humpback Whale, sparked the “Save the Whales” movement, one of the most successful conservation initiatives in history. The campaign eventually led to the Marine Mammal Protection Act that marked the end of large-scale whaling and saved several whale populations from extinction.
All this by just hearing the sounds of whales. Imagine what would happen if we could understand them and communicate back. For the ﬁrst time in history, advances in engineering, artiﬁcial intelligence and linguistics have made it possible to understand the communication of whales and other animals more substantially. Our species is at a critical juncture, one where we can work together with the help of compassionate technologies to build a brighter, more connective and equitable future. CETI also hopes to provide a blueprint for future ambitious, collaborative initiatives that can help us on this journey.
Meet The Project CETI Team
Cornell University: Cetacean Translation Initiative: a roadmap to deciphering the communication of sperm whales by the current scientific members of Project CETI collaboration. April 2021
Harvard School of Engineering: Talking with whales
Project aims to translate sperm whale calls April 2021
National Geographic: Groundbreaking effort launched to decode whale language. With artificial intelligence and painstaking study of sperm whales, scientists hope to understand what these aliens of the deep are talking about. April 2021
National Geographic: David Gruber: Researching with respect and a gentler touch—National Geographic Explorer David Gruber and his team are taking a delicate approach to understanding sperm whales. March 2021
TED Audacious: What if we could communicate with another species? SEP 2020
Simons Institute: Sperm Whale Communication: What we know so far/ Understanding Whale Communication: First steps AUG 2020 with David Gruber
Anniversary Event of the Healthy Seas Foundation Celebrates a Decade of Marine Protection and Industry-Wide Partnerships
September 20, 2023
Croatia and Slovenia — The Healthy Seas Foundation, a pioneering organization dedicated to marine conservation and education, commemorated its 10-year anniversary with a remarkable three-day event held from September 4th to 6th, 2023. The event brought together a diverse array of partners, collaborators, journalists, and environmental enthusiasts who have collectively contributed to the foundation’s journey towards cleaner seas.
A Decade of Transformation
The anniversary event was a testament to the remarkable achievements of the Healthy Seas Foundation over the past decade. Participants gathered from across the globe to reflect on the foundation’s impactful initiatives, discuss future strategies, and reinforce current partnerships. The event underscored the deep interlinkage between marine conservation and diverse industries, illustrating the power of collaboration in fostering positive change.
Empowering Presentations and Collaborative Networking
Day 1 featured insightful presentations that delved into the history and future aspirations of the Healthy Seas Foundation. Attendees engaged in discussions that underscored the importance of sustainable practices promoting circularity across various industries. The day concluded with a celebratory dinner, providing a platform for networking and idea exchange among partners and collaborators.
Nurturing Tomorrow’s Advocates
Day 2 saw the foundation’s commitment to education and community engagement in action. Collaborating with local school children, the event fostered environmental awareness through interactive activities. An inspiring photo exhibition and a captivating virtual reality experience transported participants into the heart of marine ecosystems, emphasizing the significance of cleaning and safeguarding these vital ecosystems for future generations.
The day also featured a presentation and joint artwork session with Bracenet, a valued partner of the Healthy Seas Foundation. Bracenet showcased the diverse applications of the nets recovered by Healthy Seas, highlighting their transformation from abandoned ghost nets to purposeful creations.
The afternoon of Day 2 witnessed a ghost net retrieval mission led by Ghost Divers from around the world. These volunteer divers demonstrated their dedication to ocean cleanup by removing abandoned fishing nets, a significant threat to marine life, from the seas.
Embracing Circularity: Aquafil’s Sustainable Innovation
Day 3 showcased the Healthy Seas Foundation’s vital partnership with Aquafil. Participants witnessed the collaborative efforts to give discarded nets and nylon waste new life, an embodiment of environmental stewardship and innovation. Through this partnership, some of the fishing nets recovered by Healthy Seas are mixed together with other nylon waste and transformed into ECONYL® regenerated nylon, advancing circular economy across industries.
Celebrating a Decade of Growth
Over the last 10 years, the Healthy Seas Foundation has experienced substantial growth, expanding from 3 partners in 2013 to a network of 150 partners today. The initiative has progressed from 20 activities to an impressive 228, with volunteers increasing from 15 to a formidable force of 350. What initially began in 3 countries has now extended its impactful operations to 20 countries.
As the Healthy Seas Foundation envisions the future, the anniversary event serves as a reminder of the remarkable progress of the past decade and the potential for even greater impact in the years to come.
For media inquiries, interviews, or additional information, please contact:
Samara Croci, Communications Manager, Healthy Seas Foundation
email@example.com +39 3314436962
About Healthy Seas Foundation:
Healthy Seas is an international non-profit organisation whose mission is to remove waste from the seas, in particular fishing nets, for the purpose of creating healthier seas and recycling marine litter into textile products. The recovered fishing nets will be transformed and regenerated by Aquafil, together with other nylon waste, into ECONYL® yarn, a high-quality raw material used to create new products, such as socks, swimwear, sportswear, or carpets. Since its founding in 2013, Healthy Seas has collected over 905 tons of fishing nets and other marine litter with the help of volunteer divers and fishers.