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Dolphin Whistle Translator Interprets Dolphin Sounds to Human Speech Live for the First Time

"So long, and thanks for all the fish!" We're screwed.

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Imagine how you’d react if your cat just started speaking English to you. (Yeah, you’re a geek on the Internet, so I took a wild guess that you have a cat.) Now, you have a pretty decent idea of what Denise Herzing felt like when she heard a dolphin speak English to her through an electronic translator for the first time.

Herzing, director of the Wild Dolphin Project, had been working with and tracking a pod of dolphins for 25 years when the Cetacean Hearing and Telemetry (CHAT, get it?) custom translator box she was wearing suddenly spoke to her as the dolphins whistle. What nugget of wisdom did the dolphins impart on their first direct communication with humans?

“Sargassum,” Darwin the dolphin said. No, not, “Sargasm.” The dolphin that spoke to her didn’t coin a new term for the sweet release you feel when landing the perfect sarcastic comment. Sargassum is a kind of sea weed, and the dolphin was merely commenting on its existence in the same way a baby human might name the objects they find, or a dog might say, “Squirrel!”


As dogs are known to do.

Herzing’s own voice spoke the word through the CHAT box that is currently being used to pick up dolphin whistles that her team has taught the pod of dolphins to use to say specific things. These whistles sound slightly different from from their normal dolphin-speak, which means they’re easier to separate out and pick up on patterns for translation.

It was a pretty exciting development that bodes well for the future of translating animal speech. “I was like whoa! We have a match. I was stunned,” Herzig told New Scientist.

Michael Coen, a biostatistician at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said, “It sounds like a fabulous observation, one you almost have to resist speculating on. It’s provocative.” Too bad; we’re going to speculate anyway, because we want to finally live out Seaquest.

Dramatic reenactment of dolphin translation:

Seriously? I used to watch this? Yeah, after careful consideration, living Seaquest seems a lot more exciting than watching Seaquest. Keep it up, Herzing.

(via New Scientist, images via The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and UP)

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Dan Van Winkle (he) is an editor and manager who has been working in digital media since 2013, first at now-defunct Geekosystem (RIP), and then at The Mary Sue starting in 2014, specializing in gaming, science, and technology. Outside of his professional experience, he has been active in video game modding and development as a hobby for many years. He lives in North Carolina with Lisa Brown (his wife) and Liz Lemon (their dog), both of whom are the best, and you will regret challenging him at Smash Bros.