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Could humans one day communicate with dolphins?

A new device mimics the sounds of the ocean's smartest creatures, and could one day allow human-dolphin dialogue

Listen up, Flipper: A new speaker developed by an international team of scientists may be the key to human-dolphin conversation; such a prospect is alluring to humans because, as studies have demonstrated, dolphins are far and away the ocean's most intelligent animals. Here, a concise guide to the revolutionary new tech:

Why do we need speakers to interact with dolphins?Dolphins chat with one another using a variety of sounds like whistles and clicks. Some of these noises have frequencies below 20 kilohertz, which humans can hear. Dolphins also, however, utilize high frequencies well beyond what human ears can normally register (150 kilohertz). 

How does the speaker work?This speaker prototype, part of the Cetacean Hearing and Telemetry (CHAT) project, "can project the full range of all of the sounds dolphins make — from those used in communication to echolocation clicks," says Charles Choi at LiveScience.  The speaker was built using piezoelectric materials, which work by converting electricity into physical vibrations and vice-versa. In theory, it gives us the means to figure out what dolphins are saying. 

What will scientists do with the recordings?One of the first tasks will be building a basic dolphin vocabulary. "The idea is to broadcast specific series of vocalizations and then record the responses," says Choi. From there, experts are hoping to deduce the "fundamental units" of dolphin speech to compile a working dictionary, and, eventually, a fully realized language.

How long will that take?The team just put the finishing touches on the speaker, so it hasn't even been used in the water yet. Researchers plan to test the device "in the middle of this year" on wild dolphins in the Atlantic.

Sources: Gizmag, LiveScience, TreeHugger

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