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A dolphin swims at the Marineland animal exhibition park in the French Riviera city of Antibes

Researchers in Florida have developed an interface that aims to translate dolphin sounds into words that humans can understand. As Dr. Denise Herzing, the founder of the Wild Dolphin Project, puts it:

"Think of it like an acoustic keyboard underwater. The system has four artificially designed whistles that we created. We made them specifically because they aren’t in the dolphin’s normal repertoire."

With their ability to mimic sounds, dolphins can learn how to make whistling noises which they have been trained to associate with designated objects in the water. Underwater computer CHAT (Cetacean Hearing and Telemetry) can hear the whistle sounds being made by the dolphins, and then translate them into words that are transmitted into a researcher's ear piece. 

Dr. Herzing is encouraged by an instance in which a dolphin's whistle was translated by CHAT into the word "Sargassum," which is a kind of brown algae. Though, she warns of celebrating success too soon.

"Let’s remember that when a dolphin mimics a whistle, it doesn’t necessarily mean the dolphin understands what the whistle means."

Still, it's an exciting development in dolphin-to-human communication. And no, we're not referring to this kind of communication.

 

About the author

Ben Johnson is the host of Marketplace Tech.

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