Events & exhibitions
event • Radcliffe on the Road

Speaking with Whales: Listening to and Translating Their Communication

Underwater photo of three sperm whale calfs
Project CETI, profiled in National Geographic, had its start in the halls of the Radcliffe Fellowship Program. Image courtesy of Amanda Cotton

2017–2018 Radcliffe fellows David Gruber, Michael Bronstein, and Shafi Goldwasser convened in 2019 an exploratory seminar at Harvard Radcliffe Institute titled “Novel Ways to Non-invasively Visualize/Characterize/Decipher the Sonic Communication of Marine Mammals.” From this, the group was awarded the 2020 Audacious Project and formed Project CETI (Cetacean Translation Initiative) with the mission to study communication among highly intelligent sperm whales to understand the species on a new level. Using state-of-the-art non-invasive robotics to capture sounds and apply advanced machine learning to decode recordings, researchers now have the tools to look for deep structure in whales’ communication systems.


Tomiko Brown-Nagin, dean of Harvard Radcliffe Institute, Daniel P.S. Paul Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard Law School, professor of history in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and chair of the Presidential Committee on Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery

Portrait of Tomiko Brown-Nagin

David Gruber RI ‘18, President Professor of Biology and Environmental Science, City University of New York

Headshot of David Gruber

Michael Bronstein RI ‘18, professor and chair of machine learning and pattern recognition, Department of Computing, Imperial College London

Portrait of Michael Bronstein

Shafi Goldwasser RI ‘18, director, Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing and C. Lester Hogan Chair and Professor in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, University of California, Berkeley; RSA Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Portrait of Shafi Goldwasser

Can We Talk to Whales? (New Yorker, 9/4/23)

If We Could Talk to the Animals . . . Whales, Specifically (Harvard Gazette, 11/5/21)

Are We on the Verge of Chatting with Whales? (Hakai Magazine, 10/26/21)

Event Video

Underwater photo of three sperm whale calfs

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