Subject: human-dolphin communication

Robert Kenney (
Fri, 11 Dec 1998 11:16:54 -0500

At 17:15 12/10/98 EST, you wrote:
>Mr. Kenney:
>My name is Garrett Wozniak, and I am an eleventh grader in Maryland.  I am
>doing a research project on dolphin-human communication.  I was hoping that
>you might be able to give sites, or ideas on how to gain information on this
>topic.  Information that I am looking for includes; how it is done, how
>dolphins themselves communicate, and possible benefits from being able to
>communicate with dolphins.
Start out by using whatever Web search engine you like to look for
"communication" AND "dolphin" - you can do that just as easily as I can.
Just remember --- the Web is a very useful tool, but the best answer to your
question about a good site to find information, especially on scientific
topics, is still "the library."  (Unless your project is due tomorrow - I
have a daughter in 11th grade, so I know how it works.)  Nobody reviews most
of what is posted on the Web, so information can range from the best science
in the world to opinions with little or no evidence to complete manure.
This is particularly true in an area like human-dolphin communication, where
there is a lot of wishful thinking, arm waving, and mythology, but little
hard science. My recommendation to you is to begin with a basic book on
animal communication, because "communication" means something very different
in animal behavior from the generally-understood meaning ("talk" or
"language" - dolphins do not talk, to humans or each other).  Then go to
information about dolphins in particular.  Currently the person doing (and
publishing) the most work with dolphin communicative capabilities is Dr. Lou
Herman from the University of Hawaii.  There is also work being done at
Disney World's facility in Orlando.  I've listed a couple of references
below, but I have to warn you about the first one.  John Lilly was the
person most responsible for spreading the mythology about dolphin speech and
dolphin intelligence, but his work was not very scientific, so read it with
a sceptical mind (in fact, a good scientist reads everything with a
sceptical mind).

Lilly, John C.  1978.  Communication between man and dolphin: the
     possibilities of talking with other species. New York: Crown
Payne, Roger (editor).  1983.  Communication and behavior of whales.
     AAAS Selected Symposium No. 76.  Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Herman, Louis (editor).  1980.  Cetacean behavior: mechanisms and 
     functions.  New York: Wiley.
Schusterman, Ronald J., Jeanette A. Thomas, and Forrest G. Wood
     (editors).  1986.  Dolphin cognition and behavior: a comparative
     approach. Hillsdale, NJ: L. Erlbaum Associates.
Thomas, Jeanette, Ronald A. Kastelein, and Alexander Ya. Suprin 
     (editors).  1993.  Marine mammal sensory systems.  New York:
     Plenum Press.

If you were a college student, I'd recommend digging deeper into the
scientific journals where the real papers are published, but that would
probably be too technical for a high school project.

Dr. Bob

 | Robert D. Kenney, Ph.D.              |
 | University of Rhode Island                                        |
 | Graduate School of Oceanography                                   |
 | Bay Campus - Box 41                          TEL:  (401) 874-6664 |
 | Narragansett, RI 02882-1197, U.S.A.          FAX:  (401) 874-6497 |