Students As Whale Song Scientists
Many students, inspired by films such as the Free Willy series, Whale Rider, and Big Miracle are fascinated by whales and the beautiful, eerie clicks, whistles, and other sounds whales, porpoises, and dolphins use to communicate with one another.
WhalesFM could serve as a the basis for at least several lessons within an oceanography unit and.or as part of a science project for individual students or small teams. Some students with particularly acute hearing and an ear for languages might find that they can really shine in such a project.
The spectrogram offers another way for students to analyze sounds by looking at their wave forms. Demonstrating this connection by having students use their computer’s built-in microphone and a recording program (such as the free, open-source Audacity) can provide students with a basic understanding of how their own voice generates acoustic waves that can be measured.
My main concern with the WhaleFM website is that directions on the site are rather sparse. Teachers will need to spend time with the interface ahead of time (or assign some savvy students figure it out for you!) I did not find a lot of support materials for this project on the Zooniverse website or its associated blog.
How I Use It
Instead of teaching students ABOUT science how about having them collaborate with a real scientists solving an interesting problem? Welcome to the world of “citizen science” in which people young and old, at home and in school, in the United States and around the world analyze data and to help us understand how whales communicate with one another.
Whale FM, also known by its more formal name the Whale Song Project, is one of several studies hosted by the Citizen Science Alliance and through their Zooniverse website. Other projects are available under the topics of space, climate, nature, and biology.
Collaborators are asked to use their computer to listen to a portion of a whale song, (represented by a graph called a spectrogram) and try to find the best match that portion of a song to several (up to nine) other songs.