The sperm whale is the loudest animal on the planet. It makes clicking sounds at a decibel level of 236. That's about twice the decibel level of a thunderclap (120). A jet taking off 80 feet away from you will hit you with about 150 decibels — the point at which your eardrums could rupture.
If 150 decibels will rupture your eardrums, what will 236 do to you?
According to James Nestor, an author and journalist who has spent years researching the ocean, sperm whale clicks are so loud that they could vibrate you to death.
In the video above, Nestor recounts a freediving expedition with sperm whales where one of the divers actually suffered temporary hand paralysis because of the clicks.
The diver, Fabrice Schnöller, has been freediving with sperm whales for about a decade now. When one of the whales in this video started jostling him, he put out his hand in front of him to gently move the whale away. His hand was paralyzed for FOUR HOURS.
So why would anyone risk paralysis or even death to swim with sperm whales?
James Nestor and Fabrice Schnöller are part of a larger effort to decode the sperm whale language. They believe that sperm whales are in fact using language to communicate with each other, because sperm whale brains have the same structures that human brains use for language.
In order to crack the code, divers have to actually get in the water with the whales. Sperm whales are notoriously shy and elusive, and they tend to be afraid of submarines and even humans who are wearing scuba gear. The only time the whales will interact with humans is when the humans are freediving — staying underwater simply holding their breath.
According to Nestor, decoding sperm whale language requires recording their clicks and their behavior at the same time, because language needs context.
Nestor and his team are planning to using computer algorithms and artificial intelligence to make sense of all the data that freedivers are able to record with the whales.
The hope is that some day we'll be able to actually communicate with sperm whales. Hopefully nobody gets vibrated to their death on the way to achieving that goal.