Sound Study Project

The goal is to keep whales from swimming into potentially dangerous areas of the ocean, and wherever “Deadly Sonar” may be present.


The Ojai Valley Whale Society (OVWS) is concerned with protecting whales past, present and future.


Saving whales is a team effort. The Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the International Maritime Organization, which governs worldwide shipping, have adopted specific proposals which improve navigational safety and reduce ship strikes to whales in shipping lanes and in marine sanctuaries, estuaries and reserves where whales are known to be. Efforts have been successful because an entire village of institutions is working together across our oceans. Whales are being saved!


“The collaboration between NOAA and the Coast Guard in reviewing and modifying these vehicle traffic separation schemes demonstrates the strong working relationship between our agencies, “ said Rear Admiral Karl Schultz, Eleventh Coast Guard district commander. “The modifications to the traffic lanes balance the safe and efficient flow of commerce within and between our nation’s ports, with NOAA’s goal of reducing whale strikes from vessels.”


I applaud these organizations efforts and appreciate specialists in the field trying to prevent harm to whales. I am inspired by their work. And because of my personal devotion to whales, and perhaps a common goal, the OVWS is piloting the OVWS Sound Study Project. The focal point of the OVWS Sound Study Project is transcribing and deciphering tonal frequencies, vocal passages, behaviors and interactions of various whale species, to find just what combinations they use to communicate warnings to one another. One might think that man trying to speak to a whale in their language is nothing less than nonsense; but I am encouraged by a group of specialists who have already had success deciphering calls of other mammals, i.e. wolves and elephants.


The OVWS Sound Study Project goal is to keep whales from swimming into potentially dangerous shipping lanes and deadly SONAR fields. Just as you and I avoid wandering into “deadly traffic intersections,” whales could avoid swimming into “deadly water intersections.” We want to develop an underwater beacon that “speaks their language” that would be placed strategically into potentially dangerous locations in the ocean, i.e. shipping lanes, wherever “Deadly Sonar” is present, or wherever whales are in danger. To transmit “WARNING” in their language in hopes of preventing future whale stranding, injury to, or loss of life, can be a reality.


Signaling and sending messages to these creatures using their own vocalization patterns, in their own language, can bridge the gap of communication. Scientific studies have already been conducted with proven results for other mammals such as elephants and wolves, please see further below, “Study Confirms, Elephants Hear Warnings With Their Feet,” by John Roach, National Geographic News, Feb.16/06; “Elephants May ‘Talk’ Via Vibrations,” July


8/02; and Shaun Ellis, “A Man Among Wolves,” National Geographic Channel, April 9/07. By using vocal frequency patterns of the mammals’ own language, specialist’s are able to send animals in the opposite direction!


The Sperm whale produces extremely intricate polyphonic and polyrhythmic patterns as well as heterochromatic frequencies to navigate, communicate and locate its food. The clicks/pings and rhythmic/harmonic passages function as the “prime mover” for the Sperm whale, as well, a majority of the 88 species found in our oceans today.


The Humpback whale also produces clicks and pings similar to the Sperm whale. However, the Humpback utilizes another set of vibrations by combining rhythmic, harmonic and melodic pitches. This whale uses multiple modes of sound to produce high, shrill shrieks, and low moans and groans, and can produce melodic lines, like singing a song.


Given my background in music, ancient history, sound and vibration, I am able to imitate and emulate tonal frequencies and vocal passages produced by various whale species, particularly the Humpback, Orca and Sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus/Cachalot). This is of particular interest to me, as I am an Ethno-musicologist, musical biologist, and recording percussionist (as heard in films such as TITANIC).


The frame drum/skin covered drum, (membranophone, approximately 10-15,000 years old), produces the same, in some cases identical, tonal frequencies to that of the Humpback whale. These tones can be produced using a specific hand technique combined with a particular finger position on the skin of the frame drum.


The musical bones, (idiophone), the oldest instrument in the world besides the human voice, (3.5 million years old), produces clicks/pings in virtually the same frequency ranges, in some cases identical to that produced by a majority of whale species, including the Humpback, Orca and particularly the Sperm whale.


I have begun using musical bones and pitched frame drums to play vocalizations as produced by these whales. The primary goal and objective is to incur dialogue with different species of whale through interaction, via hydrophones.


Successful research has already been carried out in Etosha National Park, Namibia, Africa, to prevent deadly elephant stampedes from taking place. Caitlin O’ Connell-Rodwell, a Biologist at Stanford University has recorded and used the elephants’ own “danger calls” to ward off raging stampedes for ten years.


Scientific “Study Confirms, Elephants Hear Warnings With Their Feet,” by John Roach, National Geographic News, Feb.16/06; and “Elephants May ‘Talk’ Via Vibrations,” July 8/02. When played back to a herd of stampeding elephants, the elephants’ own calls – which surmount to, “Stop! Danger! Ferocious Tigers Ahead!” stops them dead in their tracks! Use of this specific “danger call” or “warning signal,” sends rampaging elephants in the opposite direction, resulting in countless lives saved, (animals, humans and elephants alike). Peter Narins, a Biologist at UCLA, confirms and validates this scientific study.


Similar scenarios with successful results have also been achieved with staving off wolves from killing cattle in North America. Shaun Ellis, “A Man Among Wolves,” National Geographic Channel, April 9/07.


That being said, the same case can be made for whales. Mammals share common traits. No different than the elephants in Africa and the wolves in North America, the same set of life saving calls can be deciphered for whales and, likely, other species.


I have begun to analyze the tonal frequencies, dialogue patterns and language systems of the Sperm, Orca and Humpback whales. By interaction and further study of their behaviors and communication systems, I will be able to identify their own “Danger Calls” and play this “Warning” back to them.


We appreciate and thank you for your time, concern and donations.


Aaron Plunkett
Ojai Valley Whale Society
P.o.b. 282, Ojai, CA, 93024
California’s oldest and first fossilized, 25-million-year-old, Family of toothed baleen whales, “Wendell, Annie & Louie.”
Discovered 1/19/2000