Scientists Developing Translator To Talk With Dolphins

Dolphins! They’re like the chimpanzees of the sea. The problem is, they lack the necessary digits for sign language, so we can’t really understand what they’re saying. Researchers at the Wild Dolphin Project are trying to change that by developing a translator that could be used to talk to dolphins.

According to Singularity Hub, the team is working with an artificial intelligence expert from Georgia Tech to create the Catacean Hearing and Telemetry (CHAT) project:

The idea behind CHAT is to “co-create” a language with the dolphins using the sounds that dolphins normally use to communicate with each other. Once the dolphins have learned the “words,” the researchers hope to eavesdrop and pick up other “words”–real ones that the dolphins use during their normal communication.

It isn’t exactly the easiest task. For one, dolphins are capable of making an incredible array of sounds, not to mention the fact that they can change the direction of the sounds they make without turning their heads, making it hard to tell which dolphin is “saying” what and matching specific sounds with behaviors.

Still, it’s easy to see what huge implications this would have if the Wild Dolphin Project can pull this off. Dolphins, like the great apes and elephants, are self-aware, meaning they can recognize themselves in a mirror. Singularity Hub points out that the American Association for the Advancement of Science has already stated that “Like humans, dolphins appear to be self-conscious, unique individuals (with distinctive personalities, memories and a sense of self) who are vulnerable to a wide range of physical and emotional pain and harm, and who have the power to reflect upon and choose their actions.”

If we eventually learn to communicate with dolphins and they can say something other than, “Yes, I would indeed like a fish, thank you,” then we’re going to have to start really rethinking things like animal rights. How could we justify keeping dolphins in captivity in amusement parks? How much more seriously would we treat things like the dolphin slaughter featured in the documentary The Cove? The more we realize just how close to the rest of nature we really are, the more we are going to have to confront the fact that we have a responsibility to preserve it.

Photo: Just Taken Photos, Flickr, CC

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About Keith Wagstaff

Keith Wagstaff is a journalist living in New York City. He received his degree in print journalism from the University of Southern California and his work has appeared in such publications as The Village Voice, Newsday, The Huffington Post, Kilimanjaro Arts Journal, The L Magazine and others.

41 thoughts on “Scientists Developing Translator To Talk With Dolphins

  1. I wish to thank the author for posting this article on communicating with dolphins and also for mention of “The Cove” a movie about the (holocaust-like) slaughter of dolphins in the Pacific by Japan and other nations that issue permits to fishermen (25,000 permits/yr in Japan alone) explicitly to exterminate these wonderful and beneficial mammals. The slaughter continues and has virtually eliminated these gentle creatures from vast tracts of the Pacific Ocean through the most cruel deaths imaginable at the hands of fishermen.
    These sanguine and highly intelligent mammals are further exploited in ways the movie documents fully.

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