Communicating with Whales

Gary Buttery with a beluga whale
Gary Buttery, by permission

Have you ever wanted to talk to an animal? Liz Waid and Nick Page share the story of one man who is trying to communicate with whales - through music!

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Voice 1

Welcome to Spotlight program. I’m Liz Waid.

Voice 2

And I’m Nick Page. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting.  It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1

Today’s Spotlight is on talking to . . . animals!

Some people may think this is a strange idea.  Speaking to animals almost seems a little silly or foolish.  And it does not seem possible!  But if you think talking to animals is interesting, you should meet a man from the United States named Gary Buttery.

Voice 2

Buttery is a teacher and musical performer. He plays the tuba. This large instrument plays very low notes. Buttery has played the tuba for many years. He has performed all over the world from Italy to Canada to Russia. He has even performed for several Presidents of the United States.

Voice 1

Buttery enjoys making beautiful music with his tuba. He is an expert in playing, writing, and teaching music, and directing music groups. But he also enjoys listening to beautiful music. This is what interested Buttery in humpback whales. When Buttery was a young man he heard about Humpback whales. They sing beautiful songs under the water.

Voice 2

Humpback whales live deep under the ocean water in all parts of the world. These black, grey, and blue animals can weigh more than 36,000 kilograms.  And humpback whales can be 12 to 16 meters long.

Voice 1

But humpback whales are the most famous for their singing. Male humpback whales can sing long and complex songs. These songs can even last from ten to 20 minutes. Many people consider the songs of the humpback whale to be some of the most beautiful in the world. Humpback whale songs change from year to year. And they also change from place to place. Whales living in a group often sing the same song. Here is the song of one humpback whale.

Voice 2

No one knows exactly why humpback whales sing. Some experts believe whales sing to find a mate. Or, a singing whale may just be trying to find another whale. Experts continue to study humpback whale songs. They hope that studying these songs can help people understand how whales communicate.

Voice 1

Gary Buttery heard about the experts who study these humpback whale songs. And he listened to some of the whale songs they had recorded. The songs were extremely interesting to him. He decided that he wanted to do something very unusual - he wanted to write music with these whales. How did Buttery write music for a whale? With his tuba!

Voice 2

Buttery wrote this piece of music called “Conversations with Grace.” He used a recording of a humpback whale named Grace. He listened to Grace singing a song. Then he wrote music for his tuba to go with the song. When he played the tuba part, it sounded like he was talking to Grace. Here is a part of that piece of music.

Voice 1

This is more than just a piece of music. It is like a man and an animal are talking. It is a special effort to create something beautiful. Gary and Grace cannot understand each other. But this effort of communication is beautiful to many people.

Voice 2

Buttery performed this song for many people all across the United States. A newspaper even wrote a story about it. Doctor Peter Beamish saw this newspaper story. Doctor Beamish worked with whales in Newfoundland in Canada. He wanted to know how real whales would react to Buttery’s tuba playing. Would Buttery be able to communicate with them?  Would the whales become angry or calm? Would the whales listen to him? Or would they swim away?

Voice 1

Doctor Beamish invited Buttery to Trinity Bay in Newfoundland. This was a place where whales could come to get food. There, Buttery played his tuba for the whales as he floated on the ocean on a small flat boat. As Buttery played his tuba, Doctor Beamish watched the whales. He wanted to see if their behaviour changed. He wanted to see if they showed anger or aggression or if they were interested in Buttery’s music. He watched to see if the whales did anything unusual.

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The experience of playing for the whales was very special for Buttery. He described the experience to the online magazine

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“A few times, single humpback whales would swim with me only a few feet from my boat - for over an hour. Being in the company of such a large creature was exciting. The experience made me want to play more creative songs on my tuba - even ones I just made up. It made me want to do my own whale sounds using my tuba. That last idea did not prove to be a good idea with one whale. It left. As it was leaving it hit the water very hard with its tail. It seemed insulted. But he did return again, when I began playing another song.”

Voice 1

Buttery was also able to play music for whales to help them. Whales can get caught in underwater nets, or traps. A few times, Doctor Beamish asked Buttery to play his tuba for these caught whales. The whales were very frightened. This made it difficult for Doctor Beamish to cut the nets away from them. But when Buttery played his tuba, the whales became calmer. Then the scientists could cut the nets away from the whales more easily.

Voice 2

The experience was good for both Buttery, and the whales. Buttery enjoyed being near the whales. And it helped him to experiment with his tuba playing. The whales also seemed to enjoy Buttery’s music. They swam next to him. And his music made them calmer.

Voice 1

It is also a special experience when people see Buttery playing his tuba for whales. Music like the piece “Conversations with Grace” is beautiful. People all over the world can enjoy it.

Voice 2

Today, Buttery still plays his tuba in concerts around the world. And experts are still trying to discover the secrets of humpback whalesong. Will they ever know why these whales sing these beautiful songs?

Voice 1

The writer and producer of this program was Liz Waid. The voices you heard were from the United States and the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted and voiced by Spotlight. You can find our programs on the internet at This program is called ‘Communicating with Whales’.

You can also leave your comments on our website. Or you can email us at You can also find us on Facebook. Just search for Spotlight Radio. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

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Have you ever wanted to talk to an animal?


Avatar Spotlight
said on September 18, 2012

I loved reading and hearing this! I communicate with whales telepathically and take groups of people to swim with them in Silver Bank, off the Dominican Republic. I have heard them sing many times. . . and would love to buy a copy of the tuba recording Conversations with Grace.

Thank you for any further information.

Teresa Wagner

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said on September 19, 2012

I love animals very much.The special is dog and cat…But when I read program Spotlight’s story I have been loved these whales,it’s really look lovely and smartly.I wish I could hear whales sing and communicate with them.That will be exciting and amazing!

Avatar Spotlight
said on September 22, 2012

It’s amazing how a man can communicate with the humpback whales I like these animals and I hope to see it in Our beaches Manta anytime.
Through the music we can communicate and I see that the animals too.  It’s nice..
well take care these animals and others.

Thanks to let me comment spotlight

Avatar Spotlight
juan Reyes
said on September 23, 2012

This is a beautiful article. I think it is so useful to people understand animals. We need to learn a lot about animal because they are ours brother in the world. thank. Teresa do you live in the Dominican Republic?

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said on October 21, 2013

The whales are beautiful, noble, likable animals, watching and studying their behaviour in the water must be interesting as like listening to the whales’ singing. Talking to a whale through playing music is an unusual, strange idea, however, it seems to be helpfull for the whales even very pleasant too. I would like to experience being next to these amazing animals someday.
Thanks Spotlight for excellent article!

Avatar Spotlight
Gina Mejía
said on October 22, 2013

Hello everyone, this article is very interesting, whales are the most beautiful animals in our world. In my country Ecuador they are visiting our sea constantly, they are admired by foreigners who visit them always. Thanks Spotlight.

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said on October 23, 2013

Hello, the music is lenguaje the world, animals use it too, It is interessant see how a man can communicate with Whales, Whales are smartly, I have heard a lot about the intelligence of this animals

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said on November 23, 2013

Thank for your interesting article.
The whales has special charateristic that can communicate with people and understand music. That is amazing things, I really want to witness the whales with my own eyes.

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said on January 24, 2016

I am Roland. The end of the year 2015 I went to Norway. I love whales and I hope to find it there. In Tromsø I made a video about humpback whales and orcas. It was very exciting and impressiv to whatch the whales. If you have desire the short video you can go to youtube. Here is the adress

By the way the article about communication with humpback whales is very intresting for me. Thanks.

Severino Ramos da Silva's avatar
Severino Ramos da Silva
said on October 15, 2019

From .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) (Severino Ramos)
To spotlight program
Subject to answer to the question below
Location São Paulo SP Brazil
Tuesday 15, October 2019

Dear Liz waid and Nick Page

Thank you for producing and writing more one great article for us brazilian people and others around the World.
Question 1 - Have you ever wanted to talk to an animal?
Answer 1 - Yes, I have.  I Always wanted to talk to an animal in especial the whales and dolphins.  At home I talk to my cats every day before they go bed to sleep, in the morning to feed them, and in the evening to feed them again. They look like children.
Your regards,
God bless you
Severino Ramos

Avatar Spotlight
said on October 15, 2019

No. I never tried to talk to animals. I like dogs so much and I had some in the past, but now I live in an apartment and I think dogs need more space to run and walk freely. About wild animals, I like to maintain a comfortable distance for them and for me…
thank you so much

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said on October 17, 2019

Yes, I aways talk with my dog, I don’ t know if they heard me , but see for me , as   understood. The dog have a large capacity of understanding , for exemplo they know that I go to walk with they before of I to open da gate and to take the chain.