Science Update - Whale Feeding and Equine Communication

The Naked Scientists spoke to Chelsea Wald and Bob Hirshon from AAAS, the science society
25 June 2006

Interview with 

Chelsea Wald and Bob Hirshon from AAAS, the science society


Kat - We're going to head Stateside now where Bob Hirshon and Chelsea Wald are going to bring us this week's Science Update. They're going to be looking at the feeding tactics in killer whales and learning about equine communication, you guessed it, straight from the horse's mouth.

Bob - For the Naked Scientists this week: a Dr Doolittle for horses, trying to understand the meaning of the whinny. But first, killer whales aren't really whales-they're actually a member of the dolphin family. And they aren't really killers, either, at least not of humans. Chelsea tells us about how some of these misunderstood creatures really get their meals.

Chelsea - These Icelandic killer whales aren't making these sounds for fun-they're using them to hunt their favourite food: herring. That's according to Lee Miller and his colleagues at the University of Southern Denmark, who recorded the sounds. As the killer whales close in on their prey, they smack their tails underwater. The thud stuns the fish. What's more, Miller's team discovered that Icelandic killer whales produce a steady tone just before the tail slap.

Lee - So you always hear like a sound, dooo… [Whale tone] Boom [Whale tail slap] And we think that maybe this sound will cause the fish to get into a tighter ball.

Chelsea - …making it easier for the killer whales to get a meal.

Bob - Thanks, Chelsea. After a well-known American racehorse named Barbaro was injured earlier this year, reporters asked his vet how bad the injury was.

David - And he says, it's very difficult to tell because we can't speak to them and they can't speak to us.

Bob - That's physicist David Browning of the University of Rhode Island. He and a colleague are trying to overcome this language barrier between humans and horses by studying whinnies. His preliminary study shows they are quite varied.

David - The frequency can increase quite rapidly at the start and then taper off slowly. Or you can get this characteristic tremolo, you know, which you get in a whinny.

Bob - He hopes to determine what, if anything, the horses are communicating with this rich repertoire.

Chelsea - Thanks, Bob. Next week we'll talk about an ancient rock carving that might actually be an astronomical record. Until then, I'm Chelsea Wald…

Bob - And I'm Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society. Over to you, Naked Scientists.


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