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How to Talk to Dolphins

It’s clear that dolphins have a relatively sophisticated way of communicating between themselves. And studies have shown that they have an amazing ability to understand humans as well, even to the point of being able to comprehend the importance of syntax.

Dolphins may have a language of their own, but the physical differences between us and them have kept them from being able to talk back…until now.

Denise Herzing, a biologist with the Wild Dolphin Project, has developed a system of sounds, symbols and props that allow dolphins and humans to communicate simple concepts to each other.

Herzing told Wired that she was inspired to attempt the project when she noticed that wild dolphins would sometimes seek out interaction with humans on their own:

“We thought, ‘This is fascinating, let’s see if we can take it further.’ Many studies communicate with dolphins, especially in captivity, using fish as a reward. But it’s rare to ask dolphins to communicate with us.”

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Coming Soon…Dolphin Translation?

We know that dolphins have extremely advanced communication skills. In captivity, for example, they’ve been able to learn to respond to a large number of verbal commands, and even seem to understand syntax, or how word order determines meaning.

What we’ve not yet been able to do is to have a two-way conversation with them. As the Wild Dolphin Project’s Denise Herzing explained to the New Scientist, researchers have been able to:

“create a system and expect the dolphins to learn it, and they do, but the dolphins are not empowered to use the system to request things from the humans.” Read more