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Project CETI (Cetacean Translation Initiative) captures birth of sperm whale in Dominica’s waters (with videos and photos of event)

Female sperm whales holding newborn above water 1 © Project CETI

The nonprofit organization Project CETI, along with its local charitable organization Project CETI Dominica, has documented an extraordinary event in Dominica’s waters: the birth of a sperm whale. The CETI team was recording whale communication codas when they noticed unusual communication patterns among the whales. Using synced drones and hydrophones, CETI captured the birth and the events before and after it. The team recorded 11 whales working together to support the birth and lift the newborn whale out of the water to breathe. The whales carried the calf for hours to help it stay afloat and breathe while its tail was still furled. Later, pilot whales and dolphins joined the sperm whales.

This capture by Project CETI is the first scientific record of a whale birth since the 1980s and the first to include underwater audio and visuals. It is critical for understanding more about whale society and appreciating non-human beings that inhabit our world, including sperm whales in Dominica.

female sperm whales carrying newborn © Project CETI

The Project CETI science team is now analyzing this extraordinary event. They have already discovered that the baby whale’s mother, nicknamed “Rounder,” and sibling “Accra” were among the group of whales supporting the birth.

Project CETI Skipper Kevin George said of watching the birth, “I had read that female whales come together when an adult gives birth, and I used to tell guests about it when I worked with whale watching tours. To see it actually happening in real life – it’s breathtaking and life-changing.”

Project CETI’s biology lead and Founder of the Dominica Sperm Whale Project, Dr. Shane Gero, said, “Moments like this allow you to take stock and realize what an honor it is to do the work that we get to do, and how much I care about the whales that I work with.”

The Founder of Project CETI, Professor David Gruber, hopes that the footage of the birth will increase interest in and understanding of sperm whales. He says of past portrayals of whales as villains, “How wrong were we?”

First whale breath, baby on mothers head in lower right corner © Project CETI

Project CETI is a nonprofit organization registered in both the United States and Dominica that uses advanced machine learning and state-of-the-art robotics to listen to and translate sperm whale communication. All research and findings by CETI in Dominica are open-source and available for further research. CETI also has a local capacity-building initiative: the Dominica Marine Conservation Fellowship. This 10-month training program for young Dominicans interested in marine science includes nine modules on topics such as marine science, scientific research techniques, water and vessel skills, storytelling, and leadership. The program is co-created with National Geographic Society. The initial cohort had three Fellows, and a new cohort began on September 1, 2023.