"The universe is made of stories, not of atoms."
—Muriel Rukeyser


Brit's Communicating With Dolphins Claim

A real-life Doctor Dolittle says he has come up with an invention that will allow us to talk to dolphins. Catherine Jacob has been to find out if it could work.

VIEW VIDEO: Dolphin language: audio engineer John Stuart Reid claims invention can translate sounds

Device For Humans To Speak To Dolphins

8:58am UK, Tuesday April 07, 2009
Catherine Jacob, Environment correspondent

Dolphins' secret underwater language has intrigued generations of scientists, but no one has come close to cracking the code to understanding their mysterious sounds - until now.

Specta, a one-day-old bottlenose dolphin

Humans could soon be realising Dr Doolittle's dream of talking to the animals

A British acoustics engineer claims he may be close to deciphering the clicks and whistles that make up "dolphin speak".

In a lab in his Cumbrian cottage, John Stuart Reid showed me his Cymascope, a new invention which transforms sounds into pictures.

He explained the principle behind it using sand, a brass plate and a violin bow.

"You see what happens when we bring the bow down the side of the plate," he said.

"It's almost like magic because we can see now the imprint the sound has made on the surface of the plate, through the sand.

"It's literally the pattern of sound. That's the shape the sound would be if we could see it.

"That's exactly the principle of the Cymascope. Instead of using a brass plate, we're using the surface of water."

John Stuart Reid and wife Annaleise in their laboratory where they developed a device to turn dolphin sounds into graphics

John Stewart Reid and wife Annaliese

John has been working with Florida-based cetacean researcher Jack Kassewitz, who collects the dolphin and whale sounds in the field and sends them back to the UK.

He then showed me the Cymascope in action, using a pre-recorded whale sound, and explained how the process works.

"Inside the business end of the Cymascope there is a very small area of water. A light ring illuminates the water and then a video camera points down onto the water's surface," he said.

"So what we're going to do is excite the water by introducing the whale song, then look what happens on the TV monitor when we play that lovely song. What you see is the image of the sound.

"We have to start with very simple sounds. So Jack Kassewitz will be working with dolphins in future to capture sounds, while the dolphin is imaging simple objects.

Waves from the Cymascope device that changes dolphin sounds into graphics

Waves from the Cymascope device

"For example, he'll use something as simple as a ball, or something they'd normally see like a sea urchin. And it enables us to actually see that sound pattern on a Cymascope and to label that particular pattern as the dolphin word for ball, or for sea urchin."

However, some acoustics and dolphin communication experts told Sky News Online they're sceptical about how much of a breakthrough the Cymascope represents, as so much research in this field is being carried out already.

Among them is dolphin communication expert Dr Nick Tregenza from the Institute of Marine Studies at Plymouth University.

He told Sky News Online: "They have produced a device that gives a visual image of a dolphin sound; several methods already exist of doing that.

"That is not new, and it looks as though their device creates an image that contains a lot of resonances from the device.

"The images are pretty, but unfortunately they may be garbling the original sound and losing valuable information."

The Cymascope team's ultimate aim is to build up a library of sound pictures which they eventually hope may allow them to speak to dolphins. However, even they admit, this is still some years off.

No comments: