I was just listening to a 60 Minutes podcast and there was a really interesting story about a woman who has been studying the same group of African elephants for almost two decades. American scientist Andrea Turkalo has been studying their behaviour, and focusing particularly on the way they communicate. She can now identify not only what different sounds mean (including greetings, sadness, anger, and all clear), but can even tell the animals apart by their voices. Turkalo’s long years of research are leading towards a greater understanding of elephant behaviour and social interactions, and even towards a dictionary of sorts, so other people can also understand the communication between the animals.
One of the big steps that lead to a lot more understanding was realising that a lot of the noises that elephants make are actually subsonic – so low that humans can’t hear them. These low frequencies are used to communicate and locate other elephants to a range of over 2km. When researchers realised that these sounds existed, they began speeding up their recordings so the sounds became audible, and also examined wave forms on screen.
The range of different ‘expressions’ that elephants use is huge, and the research is fascinating.