Subject: Echolocation and emotion

Phillip Colla (
Wed, 16 Jun 1999 16:15:13 -0700

>I have read or heard (don't remember) that spermwhales (and tooth whale in
general)  could, with >their echolocation system, eventually feel people
emotions? They had example to give of >interraction between humans and
spermwhale that would show it. Could it be true or is it pure >fantaisy? I
am very curious on the subject (Sorry for my english but it is not my first

Odonotocetes (toothed whales and dolphins) can certainly locate people using
echolocation.  But using ECHOLOCATION to detect EMOTION is, in my opinion,
fantasy.  Consider how you interpret emotion in your friends: you listen
to what they say and how they say it, and you look for visual cues such as
smiles, frowns, body movement, and more subtle behavioral clues.  If
odontocetes interpret emotion among their own kind -- which is a very
question to answer in and of itself -- then I suspect it may be similar
to how you and I do it.  As far as odontocetes interpreting emotion in other
species, providing that they do it among themselves, then I would guess that
the less physically similar the species are, the less likely there
can be accurate interpretation of emotion.  Humans and sperm whales are,
in my opinion, quite dissimilar and it will be a long time (if ever) before
one species can communicate with another.

Please know that I have no particular expertise in these matters (animal
intra- and interspecies communication, etc.) so my response
is based on personal observation, related readings, discussions with my peers
and my own intuition.

Best regards,

Phillip Colla
Research Associate: