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The Virtual Whale Project
3D Animation and sound environment for the visualization
of the feeding behaviours of Pacific Humpback Whales
(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
|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.
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.
||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)
||Here is an example of the humpback whale
feeding call, possibly used to here and frighten the herring. (160k, AU
||Here is another example of the feeding call,
slightly longer. You can hear two whales near the end of the sample. (170k,
||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.
||Ths is another movie of a feeding lunge without
the soundtrack. (612K QuickTime)
||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.
(Click for a bigger image: 91k, 637x476 GIF)
(Click for a bigger image: 74k, 1152x1503 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.
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
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:
Reality: Full Immersion achieved.
for the Virtual Whale Project
of this project.
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
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.
The Virtual Whale Project can be reached at [email protected]
© 1995,1996 Fred
Sharpe, David Cowperthwaite, Dariusz
Garncarz, Michael Coyle