In an astounding study published this week, researchers say they have - for the first time - recreated the visual representation of what a dolphin ‘sees’ when using their echolocation.
Scientists at the Speak Dolphin Organization (SDO) based in Miami, FL recreated visual representations both 2D and 3D images of a human diver used as a test subject for dolphins in captivity. Using a device called a CymaScope, SDO researchers recorded data while the dolphin attempted to echolocate a series of objects, including a human diver. Working in tandem with 3D printing company 3D Systems, the team of scientists were able to reproduce the data captured into a 2D image (below) as well as a 3D image not yet published.
“Seeing the 3D print of a human being left us all speechless,” Jack Kassewitz, the founder of Speak Dolphin and the research team leader, said in a release.
Think of the dolphin’s echolocation system as a camera burst of photos. Each individual click sound made by the dolphin produces a still image for the animal to interpret, much like each click of a camera shutter produces an individual image. Rather than an exposure of light, however, each dolphin click is actually a pulse of pure sound, the shape of which changes when contacting any object in its path.
To be clear, in addition to using echolocation to perceive the world around them, dolphins also have eyes that function and ‘see’ much like human eyes do.
In addition to producing the first 2D and 3D echolocation visualizations, SDO scientists have also determined that dolphins can accurately recall and send the images created via echolocation to one another. The complex series of clicks and whines dolphins use to communicate are, in actuality, a form of ‘pictorial language’. To put it simply, dolphins can and do communicate with one another by passing the pictorial representations created by their echolocation to one another by recreating the exact series of clicks that produced the representation of echolocation, originally.
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