Smart animals; dolphin speak? (Animals)

by David Turell @, Monday, September 19, 2016, 18:39 (253 days ago) @ David Turell

There are a group of folks, dhw included, who try to show that humans are only a little special. Therefore there is an article, with very questionable interpretations, that tell us dolphins have a language:

"Dozens of dolphin communication patterns, including the animals' familiar whistles, clicks, and body postures, have been fascinating scientists for years. But one big question has remained frustratingly elusive: Do these highly intelligent mammals possess their own spoken language?

"This week, headlines have been swirling about a paper published in the St. Petersburg Polytechnical University Journal: Physics and Mathematics that seemed to offer tantalizing signs of dolphinese. Two Black Sea bottlenose dolphins were recorded exchanging a series of sounds that resembled “a conversation between two people.” The dolphins took turns producing the sounds and did not interrupt each other, according to study author Vyacheslav Ryabov,


"It is complete bull, and you can quote me,” says Richard Connor, a marine biologist at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth and a researcher of dolphin social interactions for more than 30 years.
“The biggest problem,” says Connor, “is that now when people make real scientific discoveries on dolphin communication, the public, having been exposed to this nonsense, will not be impressed because they will think Russian researchers already showed that they have language.”


"scientists who have spent decades studying dolphin communication point instead to a poorly devised experiment.
“Dolphin clicks are highly directional, with the energy focused in front of the animal, much like a flashlight,” says Marc Lammers, an expert in dolphin acoustics and an associate research professor at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology.
In Ryabov's study, the sounds produced by the dolphins were measured at about a 90-degree angle, which Lammers says is the very edge of the flashlight's beam. This in itself would have a dramatic effect on the data recorded, since this angle would produce a decreased amplitude and different waveforms and frequencies than if the sounds had been measured straight on.
“It's difficult to make a simple human analogy, but it might be somewhat similar to recording a conversation by people in the other room speaking into pillows,” says Lammers. “Probably not how you would try to learn a new language!”


"The Ryabov paper effectively ignores most of what is currently known about the properties of dolphin clicks, how to measure them correctly, and how they are used by animals in various contexts, and instead lays out the author's own ideas for how dolphin communication might work by weaving together some simple observations with various disconnected notions of acoustics, cognition, and language research,” says Lammers.


"To be clear, many researchers believe that dolphins are capable of complex communication. It's just that we've been searching for signs of something like language for decades, and the evidence is still lacking.


"We know dolphins are capable of understanding artificially created language, both acoustic and gestural, and abstract concepts,” says Herzing. “However, we simply do not have the data to suggest that they use words or labels in the wild.”
And the fact that the dolphins in Ryabov's experiment did not seem to interrupt each other? Herzing says we've known dolphins can exchange sound back and forth without overlap since 1979.


"Several researchers also expressed frustration at the way the story percolated through cyberspace without enough of a critical eye.
“This type of research and the resultant media coverage does an extreme disservice both to the animals, by anthropomorphizing their behavior, and other scientists, who have spent years painstakingly studying dolphin communication and who base their conclusions on well-designed methods and experimental techniques,” says King."

Comment: Good try, but most bone fide researchers are unimpressed. Do animals communicate. Of course. Is it anything like our level (?); no way!

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