Have you ever wanted to have a conversation with your dog or cat? The bad news is that communications with house pets may never be possible, but researchers at the Wild Dolphin Project founded by Denise Herzing have made steps to one day having a device that will be able to translate dolphin noises allowing humans to communicate with another species.
For the next phase in learning dolphin-speak Herzing is going high-tech. She’s collaborating with Georgia Tech artificial intelligence scientist Thad Starner on what they call the Catacean Hearing and Telemetry (CHAT) project. The idea behind CHAT is to “co-create” a language with the dolphins using the sounds that dolphins normally use to communicate with each other. Once the dolphins have learned the “words,” the researchers hope to eavesdrop and pick up other “words”–real ones that the dolphins use during their normal communication.
The versatile sound-making abilities of dolphins poses a major challenge for CHAT. Dolphins can make sounds of frequencies up to 200 kilohertz. That’s about 10 times the highest pitch that humans can hear. Dolphins can also shift a signal’s pitch or maintain it for extended periods of time. In addition, they can change the direction of projected sounds without moving their heads, making it hard for researchers to identify which dolphin said what so that they can correlate the sounds with specific behaviors.