Week 9: Inter species Dolphin-Human Communication Interactions


During last week’s lecture and the information discussed by Rachel Mayeri and other issues regarding inter species communication sort of reminded me of a TED talk that I had listened to not too long ago. In this TED talk, behavioral biologist, Denise Herzing, discusses her work with dolphins in the Bahamas and explained her research regarding the 2 way human-dolphin communication interactions she dealt with.

A large part of her research involved the “decoding,” as she described, of the sounds and gestures these dolphins would make into terms that humans could understand. According to Herzing, Dolphins have great acoustics which allow both inner and inter communication between and within different dolphin species. Such acoustics would involve different whistles denoting the unique name of each dolphin, squawks inferring aggression, or inter species communication between different species of dolphins that signified temporary alliances against certain predators, like sharks for instance. But still, the inability of the human ear to hear specific frequencies produced by these animals became a barrier to Herzing when trying to fully hear all sounds made by these dolphins.  This is where specific decoders came into play, one of them including CHAT.

CHAT, or Cetacean Hearing and Telementry, was an interface developed by Herzing with the help of Georgia Tech, that enabled particular noises produced by dolphins to be translated. Some of these noises included the name whistles the dolphins would make to each other, in which CHAT would translate to something we could understand, in a human voice. And this went the other way around as well. Human names would be converted to specific whistles that the dolphins could all associate and identify humans with.

Not only did Herzing use CHAT to “communicate” and translate whistles and human dialog but she also did work with a keyboard that enabled her and her associates to allow dolphin toys to translate to specific symbols and sounds enabling them to request things from the divers.

Although the research conducted by Herzing using the keyboard seeks to create a sort of inter communication between us and dolphins, I feel like there needs to be a line in which all this research becomes a sort of higher level dolphin training. Even though Herzing and most involved with inter species communication seek to create a 2 way interaction between humans and the targeted species, it seemed as though the symbol and sound associations with the different toys, only allowed for dolphins to work with humans and what humans wanted each toy to mean, in terms of sound and symbol, instead of letting the dolphins dictate more; allowing for more of a one way interaction.

I feel like CHAT did a great job with creating more of that 2 way interaction between the two in terms of letting both sides speak and then translate, than did the keyboard. Still, both tactics enable us to get some sort of hold on what the other species is trying to tell us and what they mean in terms of their specific type of communication.

–Dahlia Dominguez




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