You Can Talk to the Animals


By Tim Moran

Sandy and Bud had no trouble doing it, but most other real humans do--except, perhaps, the U.S. Navy, with its Marine Mammal Program, but that's another story. "It" is talking to dolphins.

In Flipper, the 1964-67 TV series, Porter Ricks' sons (the aforementioned Sandy and Bud) regularly communicated with their pet dolphin (despite that fact Flipper's voice, according to Wikipedia, was the doctored call of a kookaburra), often making Timmy and Lassie's chats seem like kindergarten doggerel.

Today, Yuka Mishima, of the Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology, has a plan that could someday help us chat with our mammalian friends. It comes in the form of a prototype "extremely broadband dolphin-speaker," designed to "project dolphins' communication sounds, whistles, burst-pulse sounds ... and detection sounds, such as echolocation clicks."

It all has to do with frequency: Dolphins, it turns out, can both hear and produce low-frequency sounds, much like humans, as well as high-frequency sounds that we are not able to hear. Mishima contends that, heretofore, there have not been any speakers available that can project the full spectrum of dolphin vocalizations.

Turn on the dolphin speaker. The researchers' developed "a prototype broadband transducer for an echosounder ... by using new types of piezoelectric elements that had never been used for underwater acoustic transducers." Mishima and his team eventually plan to use the speaker to play back an accurate representation of the true dolphin sounds that will help broaden the research of their acoustic abilities.

Flipper hasn't been on the air for more than 45 years, but should Hollywood's mavens see fit to dredge the franchise up from the deep, I, for one, would love to see them bring Yuka and his team into the mix--maybe make him a next-lagoon neighbor of the Ricks'--so we can really hear what Flipper has to say, and the kookaburra be damned.

And we can only imagine what kind of wacky trouble the gullible Bud would get into with a piezoelectronic broadband transducer nearby. It'd be a laugh riot.