So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

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Maybe you have not noticed but there are quite a few talking animals in television and film. From a talking parrot (Paulie) to talking bees (Bee Movie), and beyond, there are conversational critters everywhere. What’s with humans’ fascination with talking animals? Who knows, but if the Cetacean Hearing and Telemetry (CHAT) project has any success, we humans will soon be experiencing two-way communication with one of the most intelligent mammals on Earth: dolphins.

At the moment, humans can communicate with dolphins, giving commands and orders. But dolphins are not able to “talk” back. The CHAT project hopes to close the communication gap through an underwater computer. Previously, researchers used electronic keyboards with symbols the dolphins could press to communicate but that system wasn’t very “dolphin friendly.” The new system features a smartphone-sized computer with attached hydrophones for detecting dolphin sounds (which can range up to 200 kilohertz – much higher than the 15 kilohertz adult humans can hear!). Through a system of hearing and sending out dolphin sounds through the computer, researchers hope to crack the basic building blocks of dolphin language. 

It might sound easy but it’s actually a very complex process – and some experts believe the language divide is just too wide. Well, maybe talking dolphins are not in our future. Who knows, maybe all they could say is “so long and thanks for all the fish.”

The statements and opinions expressed in this piece are those of the event participants and do not necessarily reflect the views of any organization or agency that provided support for this event or of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.