Once in a while, very — very — rarely, dolphins will abandon their standard serenity and go on a romp that we humans refer to, aptly, as a “stampede.” The phenomenon, which involves sub-pods joining together into one splashy social — and which does indeed resemble the crowd dynamics of wild horses — is an amazing sight: The creatures, choreographed in a synchronized system that would put our own social networks to shame, leap and churn and leap some more in frenzied-yet-graceful unison.
This recording appears to be a beluga whale named NOC trying to imitate human speech. NOC was captured in 1977 and became a part of the Navy’s Marine Mammal Program in San Diego. After seven years, NOC started to make noises that humans in the water mistook for human speech. Shortly thereafter, NOC was identified as the source of the sounds and the researchers began to run experiments to figure out how he was doing it. Four years later, NOC stopped “talking,” and almost 25 years later, Sam Ridgeway and colleagues published a paper on his vocalizations in the journal Current Biology.
As you can hear yourself, the white whale was not very good at talking. Then again, the whales, like dolphins, don’t have a larynx. That meant that the whale had to come up with a way to use his existing mechanism to imitate the rhythms of human speech. In fact, the researchers found that these vocalizations were not much like his normal whaletalk. For starters, they were several octaves lower, and they displayed a cadence that matches human speech.
[Image: Spatial Agency]
The pirates still operating off the coast of Somalia have a relatively sophisticated PR machine, which includes spokespeople and a form letter to victims, politely explaining what they need to do to get their ship back.
The letter could use some editing, however. Ship owners hijacked by one group of pirates calling itself “Jamal’s Pirate Action Group” receive a form letter on letterhead adorned with a skull and crossed swords, which starts out with this greeting: “Congratulations to the Company/Owner,” according to Reuters’ Ben Berkowitz, who has the exclusive report on the pirates’ personalized stationary and form letter. The rest of the missive strikes an equally jarring tone, partly for their overly polite appeal and partly for the poor translation into English.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
On the fourth morning, as we head out from the shore of Pu’uhonua o Honaunau—past sunbathers and snorkelers, coral beds and lava flows, damselfish and yellow tangs—it’s not long before nothing but blue lies beneath us. The instructors warn us not to get a number in our heads, but of course we want to reach 100 feet, even though most of us have never before tried going deeper than 30. I think of this goal as swimming the length of a Boeing 737 that has crashed nose-first into the ocean. Setting a depth goal and reaching it might as well be free diving’s narcotic.
If scuba diving is an outward journey—Krack calls it tearing through a forest in a Hummer with the AC on and the windows up—free diving is an inward passage. It’s a lone descent, as you feel your body adapt to the depth. The mammalian diving reflex kicks in: the heart slows, peripheral blood vessels constrict, the spleen compresses and dopes the body with red blood cells.
As I kick down, I’m bubbleless, sleek. A bright metal plate at the end of the line marks 100 feet. A solitary squid watches me descend. I kick and kick, feeling my fins paddle back and forth, through a medium with 800 times the density of air. The water is clear here. I shouldn’t be looking at the plate, but I can’t help myself. I reach and grab it, before turning to head up to the surface. I’ve been sinking, so now I have to kick hard, as I bring my hands together overhead. I’ve slipped from my Zen state. My legs feel leaden, as my diaphragm contracts. What can I do but kick? At 33 feet, I’m aware of my instructor motioning for me to sweep my arms down in a final push. The contractions are worse, but I know I’m not far. So I kick. The air expands inside my mask. It’s possible—and thrilling—to take the minutest sniff. Then I exhale, as I’ve been taught, before breaking the surface, so I can immediately breathe in.
Read more. [Image: James Sturz]