Dolphin Research

Dolphin Communication Analytics

Bottlenose dolphins are known to play extensively and have high cognitive and communication capacities. Researching these potential capacities through play or enjoyable learning activities seemed like a good combination when we began our cognitive studies of bottlenose dolphins. It still does, and all of our research is either enjoyable for the dolphins or they are simply being recorded as they go about their normal activities.

Dr. Mark Turner and I recently established Dolphin Communication Analytics (website) and we are researching dolphin vocalizations and their meanings, if any. He has developed a number of software tools to analyze their vocalizations. In 1990 Mark received his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in Computer and Information Science.

Our current study on vocalized communications between dolphins is in process and in collaboration with Dolphin Adventure. It is an excellent facility in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, well known for its outstanding training abilities and animal care. We are taking simultaneous videos and underwater sound recordings. The data is being analyzed in order to evaluate if and how the dolphins communicate with each other.

Previously, here in the US my first project involved investigating dolphin production of large bubbles. These bubble spheres were induced by fun enrichment activities. Here are some pictures that tell some of the story.

Two of the enrichment items used in the bubble sphere experiments to entertain the dolphins, who reacted with great interest. The upper panels are of what came to be called “The Chimp Parade”. The hamster, chimp and duck are robotic and they all move when activated. The stars on the chimp’s springy headband have flashing LEDs and there is a similar star on the back of the duck’s wagon. The vertical thing behind the chimp with the silver pipe cleaners on the end and with purple, green and red ribbons is actually a large spring that sways when the skateboard moves. In the lower panels the “Alien Trashcan and Child” was made mostly from garage junk, kitchen items and Gorilla tape. The Alien Trashcan had a number of items attached inside its lid so when the lid was lifted, the dolphins could see what was inside, which seemed to interest them quite a bit (lower right panel).

More can be found in a couple of links. The first one is a short clip of me popping bubble wrap for Foster and Beau who blow bubble spheres WATCH VIDEO. The second one is a radio interview where I describe the research study READ and LISTEN.

Additionally, Dr. Turner and I researched and wrote about the dolphins’ reaction to the 2011 Virginia earthquake. This peer reviewed journal article was published in Marine Mammal Science. The research is described in a short radio interview here where you also can hear what the earthquake sounded like underwater.

Hopefully you find this to be interesting. We certainly do.