Do You Speak Dolphin?
A new device replicates the sounds a dolphin makes—and may one day let us talk to them
The speaking device allows scientists to replicate the wide range of high and low sounds made by dolphins. (Acoustical Society of America)
If you could chat with a dolphin, what would you say? How might a dolphin respond?
Scientists may soon find out. Researchers at the Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology have invented a device that can create the special kinds of high and low sounds that dolphins use to communicate with one another. The device is the first to produce the full range of sounds that dolphins are known to make.
Dolphins are well-known for both their intelligence and their chatty vocals. But while scientists have been able to decode some sounds that other mammals make, what dolphins are saying when they click and whistle remains unknown.
The language of dolphins is very complicated. Dolphins can make multiple sounds at the same time. Their whistles and clicks are at much higher and lower sound frequencies than human sounds are. The new invention could be the first to mimic the wide vocal range that dolphins use.
But the researchers who developed the piece of equipment have a long road of testing ahead. They plan to use the device to “speak” to dolphins, then study what kinds of vocal responses the dolphins make back. Even if the scientists are successful in getting dolphins to respond, it will take a long time to learn which sounds a dolphin understands—and what those sounds might mean.
Eventually, researchers hope to understand the basic vocabulary and grammar of dolphin speech, and to use the device not just to study dolphins but also to communicate with them.