Decoding and
Deciphering Dolphin Sounds

For years we have known that dolphins have complex sounds and behavior. WDP has a database of underwater sounds and behaviors, collected over the past 26 years, for this free-ranging community of dolphins.  Two initiatives are currently underway. The first is to fully digitize and index our video database to extract patterns of communication.  We are collaborating with researchers at the University of California in San Diego using advanced frameworks of cognitive analysis to begin to look at the complexity of dolphin communication. In addition, we are working with a team at Georgia Tech to research the use of multiple algorithms designed for unique pattern discovery in dolphin sounds.


If you would like to learn more, you can go to our Spotted Dolphin Facts page.

Two-Way Communication Between Dolphins and Humans – Phase II

Phase II research involves the development of a two-way communication system between the dolphins and humans.  From 1997 to 2000 we piloted the use of an underwater keyboard with our wild spotted dolphins, attempting to bridge the gap.  Although this was successful on some levels, we have been in need of a better system.  In the fall of 2010 we relaunched this project.  Joining forces with Georgia Tech in Atlanta, we are developing state-of-the-art technology specifically designed for this application.

(Wired Science , February 15, 2011; New Scientist, May 9, 2011; Zoe, May 16 2011; and Forbes, May 10, 2011)

Dr. Thad Starner and his students are creating a high-tech, dolphin- and human-friendly diver system to restart the exploration of a new interface in the wild. In addition, pattern recognition software is being developed to help us categorize and decode the dolphins’ natural sounds.

We are excited about the potential for this new technology as a tool for exploring dolphin cognition and communication in the wild.  Since communication is a part of cognition, this is a long-term endeavor and this summer is only the preliminary step to explorary this potential interface for two way work.

Why conduct this work?  Dolphins represent a superior non-human animal for cognitive work due to their advanced brains and sophisticated societies.  Discoveries in dolphin cognition will serve to further elevate the status of all animals on the planet, and help us define our relationship with them.  Knowing that dolphins have a complex communication system, it stands to reason that understanding it will involve many factors besides the sounds they make, including their environment, their behavior, their body posture, and their spatial and social associations.  This work holds the ability to “bridge the gap” and transcend the artificial boundaries between non-human animals and humans with the establishment of a mutually comprehensive communication system.


Please visit our Membership page to select your annual membership level, or call our research office at 561-575-5660 for more information.