Researchers have identified previously unknown elements of whale vocalizations that may be analogous to human speech, a new study reports.
Sperm whales are giants of the deep, with healthy adults having no known predators. Scientists studying their vocalizations have already picked out key elements of their communication, namely clicks, sequences of which are called codas. Now, researchers led by Gašper Beuš from the University of California, Berkeley report the discovery that the acoustic properties of these clicks—for example, pitch—are "on many levels analogous to human vowels and dipthongs," which is when one vowel sound morphs into another such as in the word "coin." The researchers even identify two unique "coda vowels" that are "actively exchanged" in conversation between whales, which they term the a-vowel and i-vowel.