A team of Japanese researchers from the Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology may become the first people to communicate with dolphins using their own language.
Dolphins, with many human-like social and sexual traits, are often regarded as one of the most intelligent animals on the planet. The problem is, despite our own vast intelligence, we don’t actually know how intelligent dolphins (or monkeys or pigs or crows) are because we can’t understand their language. Encoded in those whistles, burst-pulse sounds, and clicks, dolphins might regularly discuss calculus and astrophysics — we just don’t know.
Now, however, Japanese researchers have developed a “dolphin speaker,” which seems to be the first underwater device that is capable of producing the full range of dolphin sounds (pictured right). While the human voice generally ranges from 300Hz to 3KHz, and human hearing ranges from 10Hz to 20KHz, dolphins can produce and hear sounds up to 150KHz. Dolphins can also vocalize a number of frequencies simultaneously — the clicks it uses for echolocation are generally an ultra-broadband emission of sound ranging all the way from 1KHz to 150KHz (different objects attenuate different frequencies, so this no doubt gives dolphins a very accurate sense of its surroundings). This dolphin speaker uses four piezoelectric elements (which apparently have never been used underwater before), and one silver element, to reproduce a dolphin’s “voice” almost perfectly (pictured below).
In theory, the researchers can now head out to the ocean (or visit SeaWorld) and begin conversing with dolphins — or at least start down the very long path to understanding dolphin communication. At first they will simply record sounds and play them back to see what response they get — but it won’t be long before they cut and splice various clicks and whistles to try and understand the dolphin language.
It’s worth pointing out that humans have been communicating with dolphins for decades, much in the same way that we communicate with (and train) dogs. Beyond training them to jump through hoops and stuff, though, while researching this story I came across the US Navy’s efforts to train dolphins (and sea lions!), apparently to rescue swimmers and locate underwater mines. There also seems to be an (unsubstantiated) theory that the US and Russia have also trained dolphins to attack enemy combatants, or destroy submarines (presumably by swimming into the propeller aseembly?)
Suffice it to say, if this Japanese project is a success and they can actually talk with dolphins, and World War 3 kicks off, we might have to think twice before enjoining a naval assault on the Land of the Rising Sun.
Read more at Acoustical Society of America