Friday, February 1, 2013

Dolphin Talk

Bottle-nose dolphins may lack vocal cords, but that doesn’t stop them from communicating. They emit a variety of whistles and squeaks through their blowholes and each dolphin has a signature sound that identifies him to others. Dolphins may mimic another's sound to get its attention, a bit like calling out its name. It is not yet known if they have a formal language, but researchers have observed them using communication sounds during group hunts and mothers and offspring use their sounds to locate one another, if they become separated.

Recently, a bottle-nosed dolphin made the news, when it approached a human and requested assistance. An underwater camera woman, who was filming a dive, noticed a dolphin approaching the dive area, swimming in a slow and awkward manner. It eventually approached one of the divers, stopped before him and wiggled its right pectoral fin. At close range, the diver could see that the restricted fin movement was caused by fishing net that was entangled around the dolphin’s mouth and fin. The dolphin waited patiently throughout the seven minute process, as the diver continuously snipped at the net, occasionally moving its head or fin a bit, as if to say “there’s still some here.”

How many humans arrogantly consider themselves superior to other species? Yet despite our spoken language, we have a multitude of communication difficulties. I’m only fluent in one language and am impressed by a relative, who is fluent in four. That pales in comparison to the 6500 languages currently in existence. Even when two people speak the same language, different accents and regional word usage can cause confusion. It’s no wonder that translation services are needed for everything from business contracts to diplomatic negotiations. Beyond language, humans frequently seem to misunderstand intent. Considering the number of books on communicating with children, partners and co-workers, I have to admire the simplicity and directness of that dolphin’s request for assistance. Humans could learn from it.

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