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Images Reveal How Organization Says Dolphins See People Underwater

Dec 09, 2015 03:30 PM EST
Echolocation Image
(Photo : )
First 3D print of a human diver through the eyes of a dolphin, according to a recent study.

A team of researchers have reconstructed the first images showing how dolphins perceive the world around them. The series of images captures how dolphins "see" objects they come face-to-face with underwater, including a male diver.

Dolphins use echolocation in order to get a "feel" for their surroundings. This means that the marine animals send out sound waves, or clicks, that bounce off nearby objects and return as vibrations, which the dolphins can then use to identify the shape and size of an object and how far away it is.   

Knowing this, Jack Kassewitz, founder of the Speak Dolphin research organization, created a method to replicate the reflected pulses of sound, from which he says he captured what the dolphins "saw." He calls this technology CymaScope.

"When a dolphin scans an object with its high frequency sound beam, each short click captures a still image, similar to a camera taking photographs. Each dolphin click is a pulse of pure sound that becomes modulated by the shape of the object," John Stuart Reid, inventor of the CymaScope and Kassewitz's research partner, explained in a press release.

While Speak Dolphin clearly is doing interested research about dolphins, the organization isn't bringing in other scientists' opinions or publishing its work in scientific journals, which is the standard case for scientific studies and allows them to be vetted for accuracy. Florida-based Kelly Jaakkola, director of research at the Dolphin Research Center, noted in an email that Speak Dolphin's not having done so was a problem, according to the Washington Post.

"This information is just from a press release, which anyone can put out without external checks," Jaakola wrote. "This hasn't been published in a scientific journal or even presented at a scientific conference. Science has peer review for a reason. So unless/until it's been vetted by other scientists, there's no scientific "result" to talk about."

So, keep that in mind. However, here's more about the images that have captured the attention of the Internet. For their study, a diver named Jim McDonough swam alongside Amaya, a female dolphin at Dolphin Discovery Center, Puerto Aventuras, Mexico. McDonough was attached to a weighted belt inside the tank so that bubbles exhaled from his breathing apparatus wouldn't interfere with the image. When Amaya directed her echolocation beam towards McDonough, specialized audio equipment recorded the vibrations bouncing off him.

These returning signals were later used to create computer-enhanced 2D images. Then, using a photo analysis, researchers were able to extract 3D data from the images to print replicas of the original objects "seen" by Amaya in the tank. The images suggest dolphins can at least perceive the complete silhouette of an object using echolocation. (Scroll to read more...)

(Photo : Flickr: Andreas Ahrens)
Dolphins use echolocation to "see" objects underwater. Using this, researchers have reconstructed 3D images of how a dolphin perceived a nearby diver.

"Seeing the 3-D print of a human being left us all speechless," Kassewitz added in the release. "For the first time ever, we may be holding in our hands a glimpse into what cetaceans see with sound. Nearly every experiment is bringing us more images with more detail."

The next step for researchers, they said in the release, is determining how dolphins may be sharing these echolocation images with other members of their pack as part of a "sono-pictorial language."

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