WHALE TALK

Is it possible to untangle the hidden structures of the communication system of killer whales? Along the west coast of Canada an interdisciplinary, international team of researchers sets out to find answers.

To understand the language of animals is an ancient dream of mankind. Do intelligent and highly communicative animals have real "languages" or merely simple communication systems? To find answers, an international team of researchers decides to adapt machine learning pattern recognition technologies for the first time to killer whales. For unknown human languages, similar technologies can be trained to automatically identify hidden language structures. To collect sufficient data for their analysis the team embarks on an expedition along the pristine coastlines of Northern Canada. With specialised software on board they follow different groups of the Northern Resident killer whales. The challenge is to isolate whale calls that reappear often in similar contexts. These might provide first hints towards a possible meaning. Finally the neural networks begin to identify whale call patterns amidst the ocean noise. The first proof that the new pattern recognition technologies can be trained on animal communication. Yet to understand in detail why a call is made, and who answers what, still will require more training and data. Combining stunning images with up-to-date scientific research, the film provides a window into a new and exciting niche of animal communication research.

Genre Science
Length 52' HD
Film by Volker Barth (Whale Talk) and Yanick Rose, Michael Allder and Volker Barth (Orques en Péril)
Production Co-production Anthro-Media, Ferns Productions, Vulcan Productions and YUZU Productions with ZDF, 3Sat, ARTE France, CBC, Radio Canada, with the support of Creative Europe MEDIA, Canada Media Fund, The Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit and Creative BC
Original Title Orkas in Gefahr / Orques en péril (Arte), Whale Talk (3Sat)
Year 2020