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Listen to the Orchive: 20,000 hours of Spong orca lab tapes

Animal Communication, Bioacoustics, Ocean, Science Add comments

Paul Spong and Helena Symonds are legends in the field of whale research; since the early 1970’s they’ve dedicated themselves to studying orcas from their independent lab on an island between Vancouver Island and the mainland.  Over those many years, they’ve accumulated 20,000 hours of tapes, which are now being digitized and cleaned up (to remove hiss and other noise and make the orca calls more prominent) by George Tzanetakis of the University of Victoria.  A recent article in the Toronto Globe and Mail focuses on Tzanetakis’ work, which is being posted online for researchers and curious listeners as the Orchive.  The entire collection isn’t online yet, but there’s plenty!

Those of us  who know the pleasures of cueing up Newport Jazz or good ol’ Grateful Dead shows from online taper archives like and Bill Graham’s Wolfgang’s Vault will be familiar with the scope of this project: right now I’m nearly half-way through a 45-minute “set” from 9/1/05 known on the Orchive as Tape 449A.  As with jam band and jazz taper archives, the quality is decent though not crystal clear, creating a great background stream of pleasurable audio, ebbing and flowing from quiet and calm to more active, interspersed with moments of truly exciting interplay and melodic joy.  The audio is presented with a basic spectrogram, and even field notes (the scientific version of Dick Latvala’s show notes):

A sweet set from 9/1/05

A sweet set from 9/1/05

Visit the Orchive!

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