Dolphin Mental Abilities
[Continued from Part 4]
For whatever reason, dolphin communication research in the United States has been hampered in at least the three ways pointed out by Markov and Ostrovskaya, 1990:
- 1. Most of the communication research has been conducted on dolphins that were caught before they could have been reasonably been expected to have learned a dolphin communication code, should dolphins have one. These dolphins have also been kept in the same tanks with older dolphins that were caught too young to have learned such a code, further reducing their chances for exposure to any natural communication code. Juvenile dolphins make stereotypic signals.
- 2. The tradition of captivity for dolphins in the United States has been debated for many years as stressful for dolphins. This has lead to claims by animal protection groups that stress is the leading cause of death for captive dolphins. As Markov and Ostrovskaya point out, stressed dolphins use stereotypic signals. American dolphin communication research has only been able to record stereotypic signals in their captive subjects for dolphin communication research.
- 3. Restricting the ability of dolphins to use the full range of frequencies that their anatomy allows by forcing their communications through electronic equipment, limits their sounds and communication to stereotypic signals.
Because of the Navy's classification of its dolphin program we can only say that, in public, dolphin communication research, today, is still at the state of development Helen Keller (1880-1968) was when Ann Sullivan (died 1936) first attempted to break through the significant barriers Keller's deafness and blindness posed for her intellectual development. Before this attempt, Helen Keller was regarded as mentally retarded, yet she developed into a world famous author and lecturer. The fact of the matter was that she simply was unable to interface with other humans at normal sensory levels due to her blindness and deafness. Once a way was developed to break through that barrier (through touch), communication could take place. Such is the case for dolphins with respect to humans, only we just need to let them "speak" back. Amongst dolphins, they may have no problem communicating environmental and social information with each other. But as interactors with humans they are as cut off from true communication with humans as Helen Keller was with other humans, even though Helen Keller's difficulties were purely sensory.
This is the same problem encountered with primate communication research before American Sign Language. It is interesting though, that the breakthrough with primates using American Sign Language came after Batteau's dolphin whistled communication breakthrough. But, as much as we have seen extensive developments in the arena of communication with primates, there have been no further developments in dolphin communication using a human whistled language. The most obvious reason for such a discrepancy is due to the Navy's classified dolphin program. It is also interesting that there was, is and has never been a classified chimpanzee or gorilla language research program.
With cognitive ethology, we now have a scientific discipline that can explore the mind of a non-human animal with a brain the size of or larger than man's. But, this can be done only if we can find a way to communicate information to and receive information from such a suspected consciousness. This paper has endeavored to show that a whistled language, as described by Busnel, could be used with a device, as envisioned by Batteau. A simpler approach would only use an inexpensive whistling device to communicate with dolphins in a manner that extends well beyond the self-imposed limits of Herman's approach to productive competencies with dolphins. This approach will also allow phonetically based language communication research to be conducted with a non-human animal for the first time - at least in public. The work of Markov and Ostrovskaya on dolphin natural communication code, and the work of Herman et al. to date, with dolphins demonstrating receptive competencies, are strong encouragement that such a medium will work. The challenges and arguments of dolphin an animal protection groups and some of the animal communication researchers themselves will require that the methodology use in this effort approach that found in human language learning. An integral part of that approach will be to give the dolphin subjects the same respect as that given human subjects. Further in the future, dolphins trained in this human whistled language may then be able to act as translators or intermediaries in open ocean research with feral dolphins that use their own natural communication code. This research could place Markov and Ostrovskaya's round-breaking work in a better perspective. Results in this area will feed much needed information into a philosophical debate of extended duration about the extent of animal mind.
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