Russell Arnott, apparently an oceanographer, who currently works as a project manager at the Sainsbury Laboratory, Cambridge University (UK), wrote in his piece Whales and Waves (2016, p.2):

New research from the DAREWIN Institute postulates that once a whale has obtained an image of an object using sound, it can then send a holographic image of what they saw to another whale using sound. That’s like sending a 3D-picture to your friend using only your face.

Although that article is available on Academia.edu, and Russell Arnott does indeed apparently currently work for Cambridge University, the article is not from a published academic journal. With my meagre understanding of biology I've tried to hunt down articles on this in peer reviewed journals or academic books but have drawn a blank.

Is there any research which suggests that whales may be able to send each other three-dimensional images, or in fact, images of any sort at all?

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    $\begingroup$ whales uses sonar and it might be possible for other whales to see the return signal/picture,it is sort of scary if it is done in any other way than this. $\endgroup$ Jun 26, 2022 at 6:05
  • $\begingroup$ Computers transmit topographic maps, 2D images and 3D files with colors and measurements at high bandwidths, Animals transmit symbols as language. If you mix the notions of 3D and symbols, it's like saying the whale's don't need to define the seabed or a shoal of fish when they speak, they provide a high bandwidth topographic map, and that's a muddled suggestion without data. Given their soundwaves and the precision of analogue time measurement, they could speak all day to transmit only a small topographic scan. $\endgroup$ Aug 19, 2023 at 3:00
  • $\begingroup$ To send a holographic image using speech, you have to convert the information of the image from an echogram to vocal soundwave and back to an echogram, using analogue time measurement process the data. for a 3D image, whales also have to take multiple echograms from different locations, think about them, then synthesize them into one low bandwidth voica call going through a different sensory pathway, using analogue time for precision, and no mammals have very precise timing to "send images" using sound. $\endgroup$ Aug 19, 2023 at 3:17
  • $\begingroup$ @bandybabboon Apart from humans animals don't use language. And my interest in this question is precisely because it throws light on why humans need language to communicate and why we have verbs. $\endgroup$
    – Araucaria
    Aug 19, 2023 at 9:23
  • $\begingroup$ Holographic is a very uncommon word to use for animal communications. 3D scenes definitely require adding together more than one echogram. $\endgroup$ Aug 19, 2023 at 20:54

4 Answers 4


I would be highly skeptical. First one must ask what is meant by a 3D image. On one hand, humans are perfectly able to transfer this type of information, but not as an image. Expressions, such as "red, guitar-shaped, covered in iridescent fish-scales and with an orange coming out of the hole in middle" will create a clear (albeit confusing) image in the head of the reader/listener. However, it is not the image that is transferred, only attributes of the object allowing the receiver to reconstruct the image based on previous experience. It is not inconceivable that some animals can do the same to a lesser degree, although it requires a well-developed language, not consistent with what we know about how (little) sperm whales communicate with each other. On the other hand, if what is meant with a 3D image is a detailed representation of the actual shape of an object, it would be unlike any other known form of communication between animals and raises a wealth of questions that must be answered, such as how this image is represented neurally in the brain of the sender, how it is encoded in an acoustic signal transmitted to the receiver, and how the receiver then decodes this information to recreate the image. Quote Carl Sagan: "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence".


As somebody familiar with production of the first digital 3D images, Russell Amott's suggestion of whales communicating in image format seems entirely possible. Perhaps the people at CETI (organization studying whale communication) need a few top geophysicists to consider the problem of how to decode whale language? Why not try running whale communications through seismic data processing algorithms?

Consider that a whale spends a large, continuous amount of time decoding sonar clicks into a 3D spatial understanding of its surroundings. Sonar works by measuring the phase shift in sound REFLECTIONS. Consider that in order to produce the loudest sounds it modulates sound also through internal reflections within its own biology (i.e. "junk" of a sperm whale). Is it not reasonable to consider that a whale would evolve to produce sounds analogous to what it hears and decodes?

This would be a great problem to get some interested Geophysicists to attempt to solve. I believe this is a more probable manner in which to decode whale communication than trying to use purely human language models.

Imagine if you could transfer 3D images into somebody else's head? No need to go to the movies. Wow. Maybe that's why a sperm whale's brain is six times larger than a human's?

  • $\begingroup$ I'm confused why this is getting any upvotes. There is no citation of any relevant information here, purely speculation, and it is simply not physically possible to transmit echolocation sounds the way they are heard, because they depend on arrival times at the listeners ears; regardless of what you hear, you can't transmit without separate speakers that can control the arrival time at each ear and also encode spectral cues that are distinct by the individual listener, only meaningful to that listener, and applied to any sound that comes in according to the direction of that sound. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Aug 10, 2023 at 14:20
  • $\begingroup$ @BryanKrause But I can hear someone singing and receive that signal through two ears at different times mediated through my own personal biological equipment and still transmit version of what I've heard with meaningful accuracy. The sound that's coming back to a whale/porpoise/dolphin originated from that mammal from roughly the same area as it's received (and the reception isn't anyhow simply directly through the ear , but is also transmitted through fat in the jaw to the ear). The buzzes going outwards are made by the mammal itself. It is not unreasonable to suspect ... $\endgroup$
    – Araucaria
    Aug 10, 2023 at 23:00
  • $\begingroup$ @BryanKrause ... that the incoming signal can also be reproduced. If what is being received by one mammal is reproduced to another, it does not mean that that other mammal will not be able to understand that the original receiver is transmitting what they 'heard' fro their own point of view. I also do not see that two ears are necessary for decoding the original signal to reproduce a three dimensional representation. One might do adequately on its own. $\endgroup$
    – Araucaria
    Aug 10, 2023 at 23:05
  • $\begingroup$ Just because a person shines a torch and others see what the light hits and reflects off doesn't imply communication. @Araucaria Whilst I see that this answer touches upon unknown neural and conceptual processes that occur (or may occur) in whales, it doesn't seem to answer the question about communication, nor is it supported with even minimal references. $\endgroup$ Aug 10, 2023 at 23:11
  • $\begingroup$ @JiminyCricket. That isn't a good description of what I described, which involved an animal resending the signal they received - handing over a polaroid in your analogy. The 'communication' seems to have been imported into the discussion by you! However, as a relevance theorist working on human linguistic communication, all that would be needed would be for the sender to be ostentatiously and self-consciously trying to affect the receiver's stock of assumptions about the world, and for the receiver to be aware f this intention, and for the receivers recognition to be understood by the sender. $\endgroup$
    – Araucaria
    Aug 11, 2023 at 14:10

This just seems like a weird and potentially hyperbolic way to state a postulate that whales use language to convey things to one another that they have observed via echolocation. Don't overthink it.


There are currently no serious claims of that type by any scientists who use the scientific method.

If it's an inaccessible, unevidenced, unpublished, unreviewed, unauthored claim of a theory, that nobody has written about from the science community, publicly attributed to no researcher titles, you can presume it is not real.

1/ The linked article quote "is for an audience of 15 years old average GCSE Students."

2/ "DAREWIN" 3D, i could find zero results related to any related research. No data is available on that theory from DAREWIN. Please comment if you find anything else than that one single statement meant for a school project.

I know about the TF dimensional limitations of sound. The article suggests that the whale sounds work like sonic modem rather than a language.

I programmed 3D graphics, vectors, maths and geometry for more than 5 years and sound waves for 8 years, including dolphin TimeFreq graphs, data transmission using sound clicks.


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