Whale Song Code – Schneier on Security

Whale Song Code

During the Cold War, the US Navy tried to make a secret code out of whale song.

The basic plan was to develop coded messages from recordings of whales, dolphins, sea lions, and seals. The submarine would broadcast the noises and a computer—the Combo Signal Recognizer (CSR)—would detect the specific patterns and decode them on the other end. In theory, this idea was relatively simple. As work progressed, the Navy found a number of complicated problems to overcome, the bulk of which centered on the authenticity of the code itself.

The message structure couldn’t just substitute the moaning of a whale or a crying seal for As and Bs or even whole words. In addition, the sounds Navy technicians recorded between 1959 and 1965 all had natural background noise. With the technology available, it would have been hard to scrub that out. Repeated blasts of the same sounds with identical extra noise would stand out to even untrained sonar operators.

In the end, it didn’t work.

Posted on April 29, 2024 at 7:07 AM •

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.

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