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← What singing orcas are trying to tell us | Pierre Robert de Latour | TEDxUniversitedeTours

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Showing Revision 17 created 05/02/2020 by Hélène Vernet.

  1. (Video) (Orcas' sounds)
  2. (Applause)
  3. Orcas are magnificent creatures.
  4. They don't deserve
    the nickname of "killer whales".
  5. First of all, they are not whales,
    they belong to the dolphin family.
  6. And second, they've never
    attacked any humans,
  7. in their natural habitat, that is.
  8. The first thing you feel
    when you dive next to orcas
  9. is an intense joy, the joy of being
    accepted into their social space
  10. and be able to observe
    for a few dozen of minutes
  11. their underwater life.
  12. Occasionally, they get curious
    and come close, very close.
  13. In this gaze, you can spot
    a vast intelligence.
  14. You feel scanned, analyzed, scrutinized,
  15. as if they had the power
    to access our deepest emotions.
  16. But above all, you don't feel the fear,
  17. you don't feel the tiredness,
    you don't feel the cold.
  18. You just feel a wave of emotions
    and energy that overwhelms you
  19. and thrills you from head to toes.
  20. I feel it more and more each year.
  21. Today, I know why,
    and I'm going to share it with you.
  22. My first encounter with orcas
    goes back to 1997.
  23. It was two days before
    an underwater fishing competition.
  24. This encounter changed
    the course of my life.
  25. It was like an irresistible call.
  26. Two days later, I win this competition,
  27. and thanks to my sponsor's incentive,
    I'm able to finance my first trip
  28. to go dive with orcas in the
    north of Norway a year later.
  29. This first expedition in 1998 was
    followed by a long series of others,
  30. 21 seasons without interruption
    during which I accumulated
  31. more than 6,000 underwater
    encounters closest to orcas.
  32. This experience has enabled
    me to design a method
  33. to approach and interact with them
    respectfully that is a reference today.
  34. I've dedicated most of my time
  35. to the study of orcas' social
    behavior and body language.
  36. This presentation
    refers to "singing orcas"
  37. but I made my first underwater
    recording only in 2016.
  38. It was near Tromsø in Kaldfjord,
  39. and it was a magical moment.
  40. During the day just before the test,
    we observed dozen of humpback whales
  41. and several hundreds orcas
    that moved in the middle of the fjord
  42. close to our anchoring.
  43. At nightfall, we took our aluminium craft
  44. and we went to the site.
  45. The atmosphere was a bit special.
  46. There was no wind
    which it's pretty rare.
  47. The fjord's surface resembled a mirror,
  48. and we could see on each side
    of this narrow fjord,
  49. the snow on the mountains.
  50. It was a rather breathtaking moment.
  51. So we stopped the engine
    and I immersed my hydrophone
  52. in the most absolute silence
    at a dozen meters deep.
  53. A hydrophone is an underwater microphone
  54. that allows you to record
    sounds while listening to them.
  55. I connected the speaker, and then ...
  56. Well, come with me on the boat.
  57. (Songs of orcas and humpback whales)
  58. A startling and perfectly orchestrated
    melody rised from the dephts.
  59. I was overwhelmed
    by the beauty of these songs.
  60. Our boat was at the interface
    between two worlds,
  61. the orcas' world and
    their secrets under the surface,
  62. and the sky and the stars above us.
  63. In the magic of the moment, I imagined
    these two worlds connected
  64. and what connected these spaces
    was the songs coming from the depths.
  65. The northern lights started
    just above our heads.
  66. The singing increased
    in intensity and harmony.
  67. (Songs of orcas and whales)
  68. Each orca, each humpback whale
    was playing its own partition
  69. in what I called later
    "The abyss's symphony".
  70. But above all, what was happening
    was going far beyond this.
  71. It was not just an harmonious
    melody pleasant to the ear,
  72. I felt enveloped,
    permeated by those songs.
  73. I felt a wave of energy,
  74. the same energy that flows
    when I dive in the vicinity of orcas.
  75. While I dedicated all these years
    to the sole study of orcas' body language,
  76. I missed something important.
  77. I realized that evening of December 2016
  78. that sounds are of vital
    importance in orcas' lives,
  79. and that that was where
    we needed to direct our research.
  80. A few weeks after the end
    of the season in March 2017,
  81. I went to Guadeloupe to meet
    Pierre Lavagne de Castellan.
  82. Pierre is a bioacoustician
    and he's the benchmark,
  83. Mister "Song of whales
    and sperm whales".
  84. He's been in that field
    for more than 30 years.
  85. During our meetings, Pierre used to say,
  86. "The message is in the song."
  87. He'd hammer it like a leitmotiv,
  88. and I was hanging on
    his words, saying to myself,
  89. "But what is this message?
    What are they saying to each other?
  90. What are they trying to tell us?"
  91. I left Guadeloupe with
    more questions than answers.
  92. I went back to France and I started
    to do research on the internet
  93. to try to understand these concepts.
  94. I had no knowledge about sound.
    So I googled "what is a sound?"
  95. A sound is a wave. Okay.
    What is a wave?
  96. A wave is an oscillation
    through a transfer of energy.
  97. Okay.
  98. It's defined by its
    amplitude, its frequency.
  99. It can be visualized by a graph.
  100. There are electromagnetic waves,
    mechanical waves,
  101. stationary waves ...
  102. All of this didn't really speak to me.
    I didn't see how I could use it.
  103. But one day, as I am searching
    about stationary waves,
  104. I stumble upon the work
    of Ernst Friedrich Chladni.
  105. Ernst Friedrich Chladni is an engineer,
    physicist and musician
  106. who discovered how to visualize sounds.
  107. He had the idea to use a copper plate,
  108. attached to a stand,
  109. on which he put a thin layer of sand,
  110. and on the periphery of which
    he used his violoin bow.
  111. Look at the result, it's surprising.
  112. (Video) (Grindings of violin bow)
  113. In this experiment, we can observe
  114. that the sand moves
    on the surface of the plate
  115. and forms a geometrical figure.
  116. These geometric patterns are called
    "Chladni's figures" or "Chladni’s plate".
  117. Chladni made a whole catalog
    of several thousands of them
  118. because what's interesting
  119. is that each frequency
    produces a specific image.
  120. Now where it gets truly exciting
  121. is when Alexander Lauterwasser,
  122. who is a German researcher
    and nature photographer,
  123. discovered recently that the shape
    of some living species
  124. was the exact copy of Chladni's plates.
  125. On this picture from his book
    "Water Sound Images,"
  126. we can see a flower with
    its corresponding Chladni's figure.
  127. It can also be the back of a turtle,
  128. or this picture taken under a microscope
    of the Diatom Arachnoidiscus
  129. that is the exact copy
    of the Chladni's figure
  130. corresponding to
    5,000 Hertz frequency.
  131. From his discovery
    Alexander Lauterwasser theorizes
  132. "the shape of living beings
    originates from sound vibrations."
  133. The shape of living beings
    originates from sound vibrations.
  134. A few years before him, Hans Jenny,
    the Swiss scientist,
  135. worked on the effects of sound on matter,
    especially on liquids and semi-liquids.
  136. Here's one of his experiments.
  137. We can see that under the effect
    of a sound vibration,
  138. this semi-liquid paste that usually sits
    at the bottom of the speaker
  139. rises up, sets itself up
    despite the gravitational force
  140. and follows specific movements.
  141. According to Hans Jenny, these movements
    are not chaotic nor random,
  142. they are perfectly organized
    and reproducible.
  143. When I saw this experiment,
    I immediately made a connection
  144. with old pictures that I took
    of my first expeditions.
  145. They show a thin liquid film
  146. that is thrown forward from
    the orcas' lower jaw while they swim.
  147. Initially, I paid no attention
    to these pictures,
  148. but now I could see a link
    with Hans Jenny's experiments.
  149. There is no reason for this phenomenon.
  150. I asked a hydrodynamic engineer
    specialized in fluid dynamics.
  151. According to him,
  152. these shapes can't exist
    in the absence of an outside force.
  153. Could orcas be creating
    this phenomenon?
  154. Could orcas be producing this frequency
  155. that enables them to produce
    these ephemeral artistic shapes?
  156. I've been studying orcas since 1998.
  157. These creatures belong
    to the cetacean family.
  158. They have a bigger brain
  159. that is potentially more powerful,
  160. more efficient than that of humans.
  161. They're conscious of themselves
    and of their surroundings.
  162. I saw them solve complex problems,
  163. especially by adapting their hunting
    strategy depending on circumstances
  164. in an extremely reactive way.
  165. They are organized in society,
  166. in family groups that are led
    by the oldest female, the matriarch.
  167. Orcas possess acoustic organs.
  168. They pass on their knowledge,
    their culture, their language,
  169. from generation to generation
    for millions of years.
  170. Our civilization is 5,000 years old.
  171. Our technology has not
    reached 200 years of age yet.
  172. We, humans,
  173. are dominating the world.
  174. We control almost all of the living.
  175. We think we know everything,
    but there's still so much to discover.
  176. Pierre Lavagne de Castellan, him again,
    has observed multiple times
  177. humpback whales
    getting together in groups
  178. and giving acoustic
    massages to each other.
  179. These recent observations show
  180. that whales but also dolphins and orcas
  181. have developed throughout evolution
    know-hows that enable them to use sounds
  182. for something other
    than simple communication.
  183. I pursue my research
    with the hope, maybe a bit foolish,
  184. of understanding these phenomenons
  185. because what I feel
    when I dive close to orcas,
  186. this well-being that I feel,
  187. is due, in my opinion,
    to the sounds they produce.
  188. Our oceans are endangered
    because of human activities:
  189. the consequences of climate change,
  190. noise pollution, chemical pollution,
  191. overfishing, sea traffic, plastic ...
  192. It's time to change our habits
    to reduce these threats.
  193. Let's save our oceans
    while we still can.
  194. Let's protect orcas,
    this luminous oceanic civilization.
  195. Let's uncover the secrets
    of their language.
  196. We will gain access
    to their knowledge
  197. and then, yes,
  198. we shall be able to heal ourselves
    with the songs of orcas.
  199. Thank you.
  200. (Applause)