Humpback Whale Research

Humpback whales cooperatively bubble net feeding (Copyright@Don Bermant)

Using modern theories of information and structure in complex systems, we are developing new signal analysis tools to analyze the informational, semantic, functional, and social communications within humpback whale populations. The long-term goal is to deepen our understanding of individual and group behaviors in ways that will improve their conservation.

Over a decade of field seasons in southeast Alaska, we monitored the behaviors and vocalizations of humpback whale populations, largely during their summer residence in the Inside Passage of the Alaskan panhandle.

Complementing behavioral reportings, we employ multi-hydrophone recordings and acoustic playbacks. In addition to this marine biological research effort, we are developing a plan for an observatory—the SouthEast Alaska WHale observatory (SEAWHO)—to provide the cloud with realtime, online acoustic signals from a large hydrophone-array deployment in Fredericks Sound. Beyond accumulating a massive behavioral data set for cetacean researchers worldwide, the processing backend will employ modern causal inference and machine learning to identify individual whales by their vocalizations and positional migration and to extract useful interpretations of their acoustic interactions.


Laurance Doyle, PI, SETI Institute

Fred Sharpe, Alaska Whale Foundation

James Crutchfield, Complexity Science Center, UC Davis