Humpback Whale
Twain responded to the team's 'whup-throp' call. Wikimedia Commons

A group of researchers recently made a groundbreaking discovery in non-human intelligence communication through a conversation with a humpback whale. The team believes that their research has brought humans one step closer to extraterrestrial interactions.

Dubbed the "Whale-SETI Team", the study's contributors hailed from various associations, from the Groove Whale Project and the Alaska Whale Foundation to the University of California, Davis (UC, Davis) and the SETI Foundation.

The paper was published in a recent issue of Peer J, an open-access and peer-reviewed journal, which was edited by Sebastian Oberst from the University of Technology in Sydney. The group's goal was to trial communicating with non-human organisms and determine whether it was possible to have a conversation with a humpback whale, which they were both successful in proving.

Dr Brenda McCowan from UC, Davis was the lead author of the research. In a press release, she said: "We believe this is the first such communicative exchange between humans and humpback whales in the humpback language."

One of the coauthors of the paper, Dr Fred Sharpe from the Alaska Whale Foundation, added: "Humpback whales are extremely intelligent, have complex social systems, make tools – nets out of bubbles to catch fish – and communicate extensively with both songs and social calls".

In a research vessel called the Blue Pearl, the group played a recorded humpback contact call, also known as a "whup/throp" call, through an underwater speaker in Southeast Alaska. Twain, a 38-year-old female humpback whale, whom the scientists had known since the 1980s, approached the boat and responded in a conversational style to the greeting signal.

The 20-minute acoustic exchange between the group and Twain showed an "intentional human-whale acoustic (and behavioural) interaction". It featured three phases of interaction which the paper divided between Engagement (Phase 1), Agitation (Phase 2), and Disengagement (Phase 3).

A follow-up report is also in the works on the non-audio communication used by whales, which includes the rings of bubbles that their species sometimes produce in the presence of, and maybe even for, humans.

Dr Laurance Doyle from the SETI Institue, another coauthor on the paper, stated: "Because of current limitations on technology, an important assumption of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence is that extraterrestrials will be interested in making contact and so target human receivers. This important assumption is certainly supported by the behaviour of humpback whales."

Humpback whales are large baleen whales that can reach up to 20 meters long and 40 tons at their largest, with an expected lifespan of over 50 years. Their recent recovery from being hunted down by humans for sport in the past has led to their current state of having an extremely wide distribution.

Wildlife Trusts report that these mammals can usually be spotted swimming alone or by pairs in UK seas, mostly around the Shetland Isles and Hebrides but increasingly seen in the Northern North Sea.

Founded in 1984, the SETI Institute, otherwise known as the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute, is an American nonprofit research organisation located in Silicon Valley in California, USA.

Dedicated to their mission of finding "evidence of technological civilisations that may exist elsewhere in the universe, particularly in our Galaxy", the SETI Institute started as one of the programs of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

In other related news, in September of 2023, NASA officially joined the search for UFOs or, as they call it, "unidentified anomalous phenomena (UAP)" and appointed Mark McInerney as the director of UAP research.

During the same month, the organisation also discovered evidence that pointed towards signs of life on another planet using their James Webb Space Telescope. The planet, also known as K18-2b, is 120 lightyears away and is believed to be around 8.6 times the size of Earth.