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Posted at 10:52 AM ET, 05/11/2011

Dolphins may soon be able to communicate with us


Hey, where’s my fish? (Istockphoto)
We’ve waited for this moment ever since Flipper leapt across the screen.

A group of scientists have developed an underwater computer that will allow humans to communicate with dolphins and possibly learn the rudiments of dolphin language.   

The Wild Dolphin Project plans to test the underwater translation machine off the Florida coast in the next few weeks. If they’re successful, it will be a giant step toward establishing communication between humans and animals.

New Scientist explains how scientists will use the device, which is made up of a smartphone-size computer and two hydrophones capable of detecting the full range of dolphin sounds:

A diver will carry the computer in a waterproof case worn across the chest, and LEDs embedded around the diver’s mask will light up to show where a sound picked up by the hydrophones originates from. The diver will also have a Twiddler — a hand-held device that acts as a combination of mouse and keyboard — for selecting what kind of sound to make in response.  

Scientists will use the machine to catalogue all the sounds dolphins make so they can establish the building blocks of the dolphins language.

Scientist Denise Herzing, who founded the Wild Dolphin Project, told the New Scientist why this project is so important.

“Many studies have communicated with dolphins, especially in captivity, using fish as a reward,” she said. “But it's rare to ask dolphins to communicate with us.”

There’s a chance scientists could discover that dolphins don’t have any words at all. If so, the machine may not be able to share much more with us than Flipper’s characteristic chirp.

By  |  10:52 AM ET, 05/11/2011

 
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