Apr 03, 2014 I Tom Head

Can Humans and Dolphins Verbally Communicate?

We scour the universe for evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence, investing ourselves in the hope that we might meet beings from another planet—but when we imprison, torture, kill, and eat other intelligent species here on Earth, who could blame them for not returning our calls? There's a movement afoot to change the way we treat intelligent non-human terrestrial life forms, but the phrase "cetacean rights" isn't one that most people are familiar with. And this may be because the full intelligence of dolphins hasn't been demonstrated to us in a manner that most non-specialists can understand.

This is likely to change as soon as dolphins can speak to us directly, and committed scientists have spent decades of their lives trying to make this happen. Among the most committed is the Wild Dolphin Project's Denise Herzing, who talked last year about her multi-decade efforts to make human-dolphin conversations possible:


Thanks to the work of Herzing and other researchers, work that now involves a wearable dolphin-to-human translation system called the Cetacean Hearing and Telemetry (CHAT) device, a dolphin now appears to have successfully learned and repeated a pattern of whistles human researchers created to refer to a type of seaweed. It isn't a soliloquy from Hamlet, but it does lend credence to the idea that dolphin communication has significant linguistic content—content that implies a certain degree of logic, an inner world, and complex social relationships.

Tom Head

Tom Head is an author or coauthor of 29 nonfiction books, columnist, scriptwriter, research paralegal, occasional hellraiser, and proud Jackson native. His book Possessions and Exorcisms (Fact or Fiction?) covers the recent demand for exorcists over the past 30 years and demonic possession.

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