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It is a well-known fact that dolphins are amongst the most intelligent animals on the planet. Yet, we have never figured out how to really communicate with them or for that matter, any other animals either. Now, a team of scientists from Florida's Wild Dolphin Project, have taken the first step towards cracking the code.
The biggest barrier to animals communicating with humans is that save for some parrots, most don't have the vocal cords to respond to us in a human language and we humans have no idea how to even begin learning their language. Therefore, any communication with animals is one-sided. For instance, while your dog probably knows what 'sit', 'heel' and number of other human words mean, you have no idea what he is saying, when he barks back at you.
To try resolve this one way communication trend, Denise Herzing and her team began by devising an open-ended language, using symbols and sounds that corresponded to toys like balls and scarves. They the programmed the 'language' onto the computer and submerged a giant keyboard in the ocean waters frequented by dolphins.
To demonstrate the game, two divers would jump in with the dolphins. One diver would request a prop by pressing the appropriate key on the keyboard. Besides sporting a giant image of the prop, the key would also emit a whistle that the dolphin could imitate. Upon receiving the request, the second diver would pick up the toy and toss it to the other diver. The team devised the two choices, so that the dolphin could learn that they could request the toy by either pressing the symbol with its nose, or simply emulating the whistle.
The results of this pilot experiment conducted with the Spotted Dolphin species, over the last three years, have been very interesting.
The dolphins most interested in the game were the young 'teen' females - Ones that did not have babies and therefore, a lot of free time. Even more interesting was the fact that as time went by, they recruited their pals from the Bottlenose Dolphin species to play the game with them - According to Denise Herzing, this kind of interaction happens frequently in the wild, as dolphins of different species hunt together and even babysit for each other. The young males, who are not as social, did not show much interest in participating in this exercise.
Also, the researchers found that the game was most successful when the divers and dolphins first swam in sync, mimicking each other and making eye contact. In the wild, these are all signs of good etiquette amongst the marine mammals - Something they obviously want us to emulate, before letting us know what is on their mind!
While this pilot study involves just some basic words, it is a great breakthrough in how we can devise a two-way communication system with intelligent animals - And, maybe even aliens, if and when we find them!