Archived Pages from 20th Century!!


The Virtual Whale Project

3D Animation and sound environment for the visualization of the feeding behaviours of Pacific Humpback Whales

New things on this web page.

HUMPY (Click for a bigger image: 93k, 636x476 GIF) 

What goes on below the waves?

The humpback is the renegade among the mysticete whales. Whether wooing mates with song, or engaging in combative sexual displays, this whale breaks all the rules. Perhaps nowhere is their enigmatic behaviour more evident than on the feeding grounds in Southeast Alaska. After traveling thousands of miles to these northern summering areas, Hawaiian humpbacks engage in bizarre feeding behaviours, many of which we are only beginning to understand. 
Schools of Pacific herring are one of their favourite targets. But capturing these fast agile fish requires an arsenal of feeding tactics. One of their most effective ploys is to band together in large groups, which may number nearly two dozen whales. The whales will then deploy bubbles, broadcast of loud, trumpet-like sounds, and the flash of their flippers at the schools. These tactics apparently herd the prey up towards the surface, where they then become trapped within the confines of a huge bubble net. Rocketing up through this tunnel of bubbles, the whales engulf the entire fish school in their cavernous mouths. 

Despite this grand finale, most of the complex behaviours that lead up to the surface lunge take place underwater. Here at Simon Fraser University, we are using a variety of research tools including sonar, dive tags, and hydrophones to understand what happens when these whales slip below the waves. The Virtual Whale Project was developed help us interpret our data with the use of 3D Graphics and sound. Perhaps one of our most important goals, however, is to use the Virtual Whale Project as an education and conservation tool to celebrate the lives of humpback whales. 

This is still a work in progress. Here is a screenshot of the program in action. Since we are working on a paper with some of this information, we cannot give much more info than pretty graphics. 

[Virtual Whale in Tank] 


Animations, Movies and sound files

Some of these movies are in QuickTime format, you can get programs to view these files from Apple. these movies are very big, and can take a lot time to download over telephone lines, so please be prepared. We have had some reports of people having problems viewing these files and are trying to fix them up.
For the sound files, there are many utilities to play AU files on the Interet, and most Macs and PCs will have something. If not, try the QuickTime movie player: it should read AU files and play them.
[QuickTime Movie]  Here is a movie of one of our virtual whales. Click on the image download and view. (671k, QuickTime) 
  Here is some actual underwater footage of humpbacks. It makes it pretty clear why you might want an alternative way of looking at the behaviours. (1M, MPEG file) 
[QuickTime Movie]  Here is an example of the humpback whale feeding call, possibly used to here and frighten the herring. (160k, AU file) 
[Whale Call]  Here is another example of the feeding call, slightly longer. You can hear two whales near the end of the sample. (170k, AU file) 
[QuickTime Movie]  Here is a complete movie of a feeding episode. (3.3M QuickTime) For some reason, this plays very well on an SGI, but the soundtrack is out of synch on a Mac. 
[QuickTime Movie]  Ths is another movie of a feeding lunge without the soundtrack. (612K QuickTime) 
[VRML File]  This our current whale model in VRML format. We are using this low detail, primitive model for speed (real time response) in the simulations. We are developing newer, more accurate models with advice from an expert in Cetacean Morphology. This will include multiple levels of detail and texture maps. 
One of the interesting things about Pacific Humpback Whales is the way they feed. They eat herring and krill mostly, but they don't just chase the prey wildly. Herring and krill have evolved behaviours to avoid predators: they spread out and dive for the bottom of the ocean. By spreading out, they make it so that whale can only get a few of them, at a time. Diving offers the protection of the dark ocean bottom where they can hide.  [Whale Feeding.gif] (Click for a bigger image: 91k, 637x476 GIF) 
[schematic.GIF] The whales in turn have evolved some very interesting techniques for catching prey with the above avoidance behaviours. They work in groups, and use noise, fin motions, and bubbles to scare the prey twords the surface of the water, and corral them so that they cannot spread out. When the prey are trapped by walls of bubbles, and near the surface of the water, that is when the whales lunge up with their mouths open to engulf the schools of herring or krill. 

The purpose of our visualization is twofold: it is a tool for the researcher to experiment with timing and three dimensional motion to give a feel for the motions of the whales, prey, bubbles and sound in the underwater world. It is also a teaching tool to be used to explain complex 3D relationships and motions to those who want to know more. 

(Click for a bigger image: 74k, 1152x1503 GIF)


Implementation Details

  • All graphics work was done on Silicon Graphics Indigo2 Extreme and Indigo2 Impact machines at the Graphics amd Multimedia Research Lab at SFU. 
  • All graphics software for the main simulation was written in house using OpenGL, and X. 
  • The whale models and shading work was done with consultation from Fred Sharpe. 
  • The 3D sound space was completly designed and implemented by Dariuz Garncarz using samples taken from the field, and processed on a Kurtzweil 2000. 
(Click for a bigger image: 77k, 635x479 GIF) 

Current and Future Work

  • Incorporating full Virtual Reality immersion using Virtual I/O Glasses and Real Time 3D sound convolution. 
  • Incorporating behaviours into the simulation: fish schooling 
  • Exploring the dynamics and acoustics of bubbles 
  • Moving to VRML/Java implemetnations 
  • Application of this visualization technique to other areas 
  • Searching for funding and donations: 

  • Email: Virtual-Whales

Project Milestones

  • Virtual Reality: Full Immersion achieved. 
  • Credits for the Virtual Whale Project 
  • History of this project. 
  • Media Attention 
  • Schooling Fish behaviour Engine (current) 
  • Porting some software to Windows 95/NT (current) 
  • Ongoing search for research money 

Who We Are:

Please note: we are a very small team of undergraduate, graduate and doctorate students from the departments of Biology and Computing Science here at Simon Fraser University. We have very little time or resources to spend on answering questions, or provideing information about Whales, vocalizations, behaviour etc. there are other places to get this information. 

Our advice is, if you want more information about Humpacks or any other type or Whales, that there is a lot of information on the internet that is freely available and that other people are working hard to maintain. Use some of the links we have made available below if you want a starting place..... 

However, the most important single resource for information in the world is still your public library. There is far more reliable, in depth, well researched information in books than there is on the internet today. Plus, it is indexed and kept in order, by a librarian who knows how to find what you want. Unlike the Internet. 


Other Links


The Virtual Whale Project can be reached at [email protected]

© 1995,1996 Fred Sharpe, David Cowperthwaite, Dariusz Garncarz, Michael Coyle
Access Count: