A team of scientists from the SETI Institute, UC Davis, and the Alaska Whale Foundation recently had a groundbreaking interaction with a humpback whale named Twain. The team played a recorded humpback whale call into the ocean, to which Twain responded in a conversational way, matching the variations in the playback over a 20-minute exchange. The researchers believe this is the first documented back-and-forth communication between humans and humpbacks in the whales’ natural language.
A paper published in PeerJ reports on this encounter as a model for developing intelligence filters to aid in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. The team argues that cetacean communication systems like humpback whales’ could serve as a proxy for deciphering potential alien signals. The mathematical concepts used to analyze complexity in communication may also have applications in detecting intelligence elsewhere. Overall, the breakthrough shows whales’ capacity for interactive communication with other species.