How Do Whales Communicate?

Whales communicate using vocalizations and body language; their vocal communication includes clicks, whistles and pulsating sounds, while they send other messages through movements of their tails and fins. Whales use communication for social purposes as well as navigating, finding food and even displaying aggression. Whales might use the same type of calls, such as clicks, for different purposes, depending on their settings.

Clicks have several meanings. Whales might use clicks for navigation, which helps them identify objects and determine their size and shape. Clicks travel as sound waves through the water and bounce off of nearby objects. This, in turn, tells whales what other objects are in the vicinity. Clicks may even help whales identify other animals in the sea, and determine whether they are friends or foes.

Whales also use whistles and pulsed calls to send messages. Pulsed calls are audible to humans, and sound like squawks or chatter. These noises, emitted at a rapid speed, serve the same universal function as social communication tools. However, linguistic differences exist in the same sounds among whale pods, which may help pods identify whales in their own groups and strangers.

Whales sometimes hit their fins or tales on the surface of the water. This action produces vibrations that travel through the water and may indicate annoyance or help whales catch fish.