Chinese scientists enlist giant whales to send secret military signals, report says

Are "whale carriers" the wave of the future? Chinese scientists are apparently researching ways to utilize the giant creatures to help "camouflage" messages sent by military members.

Researchers believe sperm whales may be able to hide underwater signals sent by Chinese submarines — successfully preventing any nearby enemy from detecting anything at all, the South China Morning Post reports. Instead, it will simply sound like the natural sound of the ocean.

Sperm whales are extremely social creatures, traveling in pods and using a variety of clicking, whistles and buzzing sounds to communicate.

"When the sound waves bounce off of an object, they return to the whale, allowing the whale to identify the shape of the object. Clicks can even help to differentiate between friendly creatures and predators," the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) describes online.


Like sperm whales, China's military would also like to send signals and warnings if they detect any potential threats.

Jiajia Jiang, associate professor of the State Key Lab of Precision Measuring Technology and Instruments at Tianjin University in China and lead researcher on the project that was published in IEEE Communication Magazine, described two ways officials could attempt to cover up military queues to the South China Morning Post — either alter current "man-made" signals to make them harder to understand, or send "weaker signals" to make them  more difficult to uncover.

“Plainly visible encrypted messages, no matter how unbreakable they are, arouse interest.”

— Han Guangjie

Jiang says the second option is more effective, though there are, of course, pitfalls. The farther the message has to travel, the likelier it could get lost along the way.

“The advantage of steganography over encryption and other conventional methods is that the intended secret message does not attract attention to itself, avoiding scrutiny,” Han Guangjie, a computer scientist at China’s Dalian University of Technology who was not involved in the research, told the Post. “Plainly visible encrypted messages, no matter how unbreakable they are, arouse interest.”


In order to accomplish this, researchers said they'd have to edit sperm whale sounds to hide messages within them, while at the same time making them distinct enough that the whales wouldn't actually mistake them for their own. They'd also have to build new technology that would translate the codes for the Chinese military.

While the idea may seem unorthodox, Newsweek points out it isn't the first time marine animals have inspired militaries.

In Ukraine and Russia, for example, dolphins are used to help detect abnormal activity near their boundaries, the magazine previously reported.