Mooing, bleating, trumpeting–we all know animal sounds. Science wonders whether they carry meaning like human words. As a kid, my imagination (fueled in part by cartoons and books) let me hold conversations with dogs and gorillas and any other animal I wanted to talk to. I’ve noticed that joy rekindled as I’ve read some of the research on whale and dolphin language and intelligence.
On the website SpeakDolphin, I’ve read a lot of exciting ideas and experiments regarding dolphin communication. A simple way to try communicating with dolphins is recording the sounds they use when researchers present them with an object (say, a ball), then playing those sounds back and seeing if it communicates ball to other dolphins. From New Scientist:
Working from an aquarium in Puerto Aventuras, Mexico, Jack Kassewitz, of Miami-based SpeakDolphin, has sealed an iPad in a waterproof case and placed it in a tank that houses a 2-year-old bottlenose dolphin named Merlin. Merlin has learned to identify eight separate physical objects and taps the matching image on the iPad screen whenever he is shown one of them.
Kassewitz also uses microphones and an iPad oscilloscope app called SignalScope to capture the sounds that Merlin makes when he looks at the objects. Kassewitz describes the results as “sound pictures” similar to ultrasound scans, each containing a representation of the object itself. When replayed, other dolphins are able to use the sounds to identify the objects.
Kassewitz is now working with other researchers to develop a model of dolphin language which he hopes will one day let humans communicate with them.
It seems communication is important to dolphins.