How Aquaman’s Weirdest Superpower Can Be Explained by Whale Songs

Communicating with fish isn't as unrealistic as you might think.

One of Aquaman’s most unique powers has always been his ability to communicate telepathically with fish, and that hasn’t changed in the new live-action movie (starring Jason Momoa). On a school field trip, a young Aquaman freaks out his classmates by commanding an entire aquarium of sea creatures, and the same skill plays a key role in the film’s climactic ending.

It’s easy to explain Aquaman’s most aquatic power with superhero magic, but could science actually make it possible to talk to fish? The short answer is: maybe, what fish? The long answer is a little more complicated.

If there’s any type of sea creature that could actually communicate with humans (and vice versa), it’s probably whales, who essentially have their own language in the form of whale songs. A study in Scientific Reports found that some humpback whales have been using the same exact whale songs for over three decades, and another paper published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B revealed that killer whales can even imitate human speech.

“Although the subject did not make perfect copies of all novel conspecific [within the same species] and human sounds, they were recognizable copies as assessed by both external independent blind observers and the acoustic analysis,” the study’s authors wrote.

Other fish communicate using through simpler gestures, electrical pulses, synchronized motion, and even by releasing certain chemicals. However, a 2011 study (via The New York Times found that some reef fish actually communicate through “croaks” and “purrs” created by contracting and vibrating their internal organs, though these sounds can’t be heard by humans.

So it seems possible that at some point in the future, scientists could figure out how to communicate and command all types of fish, but in the shorter term maybe we should set our sights on just talking to whales instead.

This December, Inverse is counting down the 20 best science moments in science fiction this year. This has been #15.

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