HomeAnimal MindsThe Search for Non-Human Intelligence


The Search for Non-Human Intelligence — 3 Comments

  1. I have been involved in three different cetacean communications projects in my life. I was a volunteer on Lilly’s JANUS project in 1985 at Marine World Africa USA in Redwood City California before it was shutdown. I’ve also spent hundreds of hours getting to know 4 young Orcas in 1980 when they were in the public access dolphin petting pool at Sea World San Diego. Fortunately this was outside the confines and limitations that their handlers have. In fact, on several occasions, I observed handlers watching me at the pool trying to figure out how I could consistently get them to come over to me and why they liked me so much, since I *never* fed them to attract them over while I was there. I’ve also gotten to know dozens of other dolphins over the years at various marine parks. Their intelligence has been demonstrated to me on many occasions. Here is a link to a picture of me with one of them


    The problem is more of a frequency problem than a language problem. Lilly had the right idea, but computer hardware in 1980 was just not up to the task to do it properly, the signal sample rate [ 512 samples a second ] was far to low to properly analyze the dolphins sounds frequencies. Hardware and software have progressed sufficiently now that I believe it would be successful if it was attempted again with the new approach I’ve come up with. However, not having a degree or any letters after my name, my views have yet to be taken seriously.

    Two of the four Orcas I interacted with have died in the intervening years. It would be nice if the communication problem was overcome and I could talk to them before the remaining two die. 32 years living in a cement swimming pool is a long time.

  2. Russell, I too volunteered on Lilly’s project at Marine World Africa, in the spring/summer of 1982.

    Have you written about the approach you’ve come up with anywhere online? I’d like to hear more about it.

  3. David,

    I haven’t written about this before, it is just a theory I’ve come up with over the years. There is actually very little overlap with human and dolphin speaking/hearing ranges. The key is to translate the two ranges so we can ‘hear’ each other. My amateur radio knowledge tells us that frequencies over 30 Khz are normally considered radio frequencies. However depending on the method of transmission, they could be either radio or ultrasonic sounds. The process I’ve come up with is similar to an AM or FM radio. Audio frequencies [ sometimes referred to as the ‘intelligence’ in a radio transmission ] is overlaid on a much higher carrier frequency, transmitted over some distance than a receiver ‘decodes’ this by stripping off the carrier leaving the audio.

    This is the process that can be used to translate human vocal range frequencies into audio frequencies in the dolphin’s hearing range. It would also do the reverse by translating dolphin vocal frequencies in to the human hearing range. This concept was confirmed for me while I was working on JANUS and I was testing a piece of equipment that was donated. It was a device called a “Wet Phone”. A surface to diver or diver to diver communications device similar in function to the UQC or underwater telephone used to communicate with submarines. It used a carrier of 35 Khz, something the dolphins would hear as a whistle. I just did a simple test of placing the hydrophone in the water and talking on it to see if the JANUS system could pick up the sound, which it did. When I went back to the tank to remove the hydrophone, Joe and Rosie were hovering around it acting very interested in it.

    To properly test this theory, the hardware would need to be adjustable in both frequency and bandwidth. Based on how some dolphin sounds sound similar to some sideband transmissions, different transmission formats should be tested, AM, FM and even other formats should also be tested. It is entirely possible that dolphins use an FM like format as it

    1) has a wider bandwidth than AM for greater information content transfer and
    2) FM has better noise rejection than AM and could have a greater useful range underwater.

    This could easily be done with software based radio to permit a high degree of flexibility and not be limited by hardware design.


    For example, the system would take the human audio range [ 0 to 20 Khz ] and overlay it on a frequency of 50 Khz creating a output of 40 to 60 Khz that the dolphins could hear as a modulated whistle and easily mimic back. You would instantly know they got it right because you would be hearing your own voice back, or the voice of whoever is talking into the system.

    This would also be communication in ‘realtime’, not the delayed interface of a computer system like JANUS. It should also be done in stereo to create a more realistic sound environment for the dolphins. Output power needs to be minimal and adjustable. This will be used at close distance. No need to be whispering into a megaphone. We already know that high powered sonar is damaging to them.

    I firmly believe that full communication would quickly follow the implementation and testing of this system.