by Kenneth W. LeVasseur Cetaman@aol.com

Management Change

[Continued from Introduction]

According to this proposal, three basic (but related) changes must occur in the classical dolphin holding facility management plan. The first change must be to the use of social reinforcement, exclusively, in training and communication with dolphins, rather than food reinforcement with its food deprivation as motivation control. This change is implemented through a language program utilizing a human whistled language. The second change must be a "feed at will" policy that can be expected to double the food budget at participating facilities.

The third change involves either being, or being in close association with, a facility that has direct access to the open ocean and is compatible with the Third Phase concept. These changes will go far toward improving the quality of life and fertility of dolphins involved in close association with humans. Current technology and new teaching techniques make these changes possible.

Language Training

Since the mid-eighties a new way of working with highly social animals has been developed that does not depend on food deprivation to be effective. This development is a new approach to language teaching that uses the process of social bonding and the resulting bonds themselves to create consistent behavior. The technique is very similar to the way language is taught to human children. This approach utilizes numerous mandatory support programs and limitations that are consistent with the moral and ethical implications of the technique, and previous research. This novel system of working with dolphins deserves close scientific scrutiny. Such management and communication in a scientifically based program could receive the approval of dolphin and animal protection groups and significantly defuse he current volatile atmosphere surrounding the issue of captive dolphins.

Although operant conditioning has been reasonably successful with human and non-human animals, it does not have the flexibility or specificity of human language and is easily abused. Human language does more than command a subject to behave a certain way. True language communicates abstract social signals between practitioners which involve positive as well as neutral and negative attitudes. Human language allows the subject to reject commands while maintaining integrity! The result of this form of abstract communication is the creation of complex cultural systems as well as the reinforcement of social bonds between language users. The use of immersion language training, instead of operant conditioning in a new approach to interacting with dolphins, would help create the social bonds needed to make the replacement program work. The flexibility and specificity of language would remove much of the frustration and resulting stress from close human / dolphin interactions. A truly positive environment for learning and exchange could evolve under such a program.

That dolphins can learn human "language" has been demonstrated as early as the mid sixties by Dwight "Wayne" Batteau (Batteau and Markey, 1967; Markey, 1969). At that time, Batteau developed, for the Navy, a two-way communication system to be used between humans and dolphins. The heart of the system was a word - to - whistle translation device called a transphonometer. This device uses an analog computer to convert the relationship between the vowels and consonants of spoken words into unique whistles which are projected underwater to the dolphins. The dolphins can then produce these same whistles into an underwater microphone. Since 1967, specially trained Navy contractors and sailors have been able to learn this human whistled language to communicate with the dolphins. The novelty of the approach, and Batteau's drowning in Hawaii in late 1967, before the research there could be finished, lead to controversy. At this time, the Navy classified it's dolphin program. On the day of Batteau's death, confusing tests of questionable value to the research were conducted by those inheriting Batteau's program. These results were later used by Forrest Wood, the Navy dolphin program director, in his 1973 book (revised 1975) to try to discredit Batteau's work and calumniate previous claims about dolphin mental abilities.

Since then Louis Herman and his associates at the University of Hawaii have clearly demonstrated linguistic ability in dolphins with their receptive competencies research (Herman, 1986 1987, Herman and Forestell 1985; Herman and Morrel-Samuels, 1990; Herman et al., 1984; Richards, 1986; Richards et al., 1984). Their one-way approach, that does not allow the dolphins to "talk" back, has been criticized by other animal communication researchers, most notably Savage-Rumbaugh, 1990, and Premack, 1986. Herman's resistance to productive competencies (talking dolphins) is purely procedural, now that his research is funded by the U. S. Navy (since 1985). Others have shown that dolphins can talk back if only they were given the chance (Batteau and Markey, 1967; Busnel and Classe, 1976; Markey, 1969; Richards, 1986; Richards et al., 1984). Batteau's research demonstrated that;

  • 1. The word-to-whistle translation devices do work;
  • 2. dolphins can duplicate the whistles;
  • 3. more than one device can be used at one time,
  • 4. communication is effective at least 75 yards from the handler;
  • 5. performances were consistent within the learning set;
  • 6. proprioceptive references in responses could be overcome;
  • 7. responses could be modified toward increasing generality;
  • 8. the dolphins responded to abbreviated whistles;
  • 9. behaviors were independent of the starting point; and
  • 10. up to 6 commands were possible when behavior is stable,

Herman's research has shown receptive language competencies in dolphins by;

  • 1. successfully processing semantic and syntactic features of a linguistic command system;
  • 2. learning different syntactic rules;
  • 3. understanding novel sentences;
  • 4. object labeling;
  • 5. reporting the condition of remote objects; and
  • 6. independence of sensory modalities in learning elaborate commands

Rene-Guy Busnel references a 1969 Markey final report (about Batteau's work) in his 1976 book Whistled Languages. This report is not in the Navy's declassified bibliography and is claimed to not be in the Navy's classified bibliograghy.

Busnel says in the conclusion of his book that,

". . . on the plane of whistled languages it is in theory perfectly possible to use this type of FM as a basis for language teaching. (pg. 1 00). . . The procedure would be identical if one were to speak into a machine designed to convert the spoken word into whistled signals. It will be remembered that something of this sort was attempted recently in the U.S., with what long-term success we do not know, in the hope that communication with dolphins would thereby be facilitated." (pg.107)

That dolphins may have a complex "language" of their own has also been revealed by research, although not in the United States. The Soviet dolphin researchers Vladimir Markov and Vera Ostrovskaya, demonstrated that dolphins have a natural communication system that is as complex as human language when measured using linguistic tools (Markov and Ostrovskaya, 1990). Their research demonstrated how American efforts at the same problem were foiled because of three reasons:

  • 1. juvenile dolphins make stereotyped signals;
  • 2. stressed dolphins make stereotyped signals;
  • 3. dolphins, in separate tanks connected with "telephones" that have bandwidths reduced below those needed for dolphin to effective communicate make stereotyped signals.

Markov and Ostrovskaya were able to show that calm and adapted dolphins have an "open" and "rich" communication system, comparable to human language. They say the Black Sea bottlenose dolphin's communication system is unique and has a high degree of complexity, "nothing of the kind has so far been discovered in other animal species", and that the vocabulary is "virtually unlimited".

The Pepperberg Technique for Model/Rival Training

A language program that would be compatible with the changes in the management of dolphin holding facilities mentioned above, could use the "Pepperberg Technique". This method uses two trainers who share and alternate the trainer / trainee roles in front of the subject. Thus, they capture the curiosity of the subject, thereby motivating the subject to learn the experimental task. The social reinforcement inherent in this approach is the subjects reward, not the confusing use of food (see Greenfield, 1978; Pepperberg, 1978, 1986, 1991; and Miles, 1983). These papers also explain how tasks such as object labeling are subverted by food reward when labeling includes non-food objects. The operant / food deprivation procedure may actually delay the labeling process by confusing the object desired to be labeled by the experiment with the food reward which is also an object. The resulting frustration from inaccurate guessing consistently makes for a poor learning and communicating environment ( e.g. Pryor et al. 1969, Pryor 1986, Maltzman, 1960). These papers describe creative situations that are pushed to the limit, close enough to threaten to or actually distort the results of the process, by trainers or experimenters.

The Pepperberg language teaching and comprehension testing technique, so successful with African Grey parrots at Northwestern University (Pepperberg, 1986, 1991), is a modification of a protocol developed by Todt (1975) for social learning research with parrots. Todt's work, in turn, is base on the social modeling research of Bandura, 1971. Todt's technique is called model / rival (M/R) training. Pepperberg's modification of M/R training (see Pepperberg, 1991) employs role reversal for the model and rival. This teaching process is very similar to the way human children learn language.

Ethical Consideration

There is another consideration that supersedes all other changes in how humans will interact with dolphins in the new approach. Humans are committed by laws to prevent and stop the enslavement of language users with capabilities or the potential to achieve those capabilities at the adult human level. It is still scientifically possible that dolphins may someday demonstrate communication abilities at or near the adult human level using a human whistled language or a deciphered dolphin communication code. For this reason dolphin subjects must be accorded the same respect as humans if they are to be used in language experiments and programs. Because of this potential and the need for trust in order for the social approach outlined above to work, this respect must be built in and implemented from the planning stage of developing the language and human / dolphin interaction programs. The basis of this requirement lies in an extensive bibliography of current neurological and cognitive research as well as recent philosophical developments. Behavioral similarities among highly socialized animals promotes this reasoning in the newly accepted research arena of cognitive ethology (Griffin,, 1976, 1979, 1984, 1985, 1991; Jerison, 1973, 1976, 1978, 1986; Ristau, 1991; Hudos, 1986; Beer, 1986). Cognitive ethology assesses the mental abilities of species in natural environments for those species. Cognitive ethologists find it difficult to explain animal behavior without using thought and mind as mechanisms of behavior. This area of research has influenced the philosophy of mind, in particular animal mind (Griffin,, 1977; Rollin, 1990; Bekoff and Jamieson 1990). New developments in the philosophy of animal mind, have shown that much of the contemporary resistance to attributing though and mind to animals has its origin not in scientific fact but in political pragmatism. Many of the original investigators into animal thought and mind (Darwin, Morgan, etc.) had their works inaccurately quoted and quoted out of context by early Behaviorists to support political positions on the non-existence of animal thought and mind (Rollin, 1990). The works of Griffin, Rollin and many others have reopened the investigation of the philosophy and science of animal minds.

The study of dolphin brains has turned up no indications that speculations about dolphin thoughts and dolphin minds are unwarranted (Jacobs 1974, 1978; Morgane 1974, Morgane and Jacobs, 1972; Morgane and Glezer, 1990; Morgane, Jacobs and Galaburda, 1986a, 1986b). Morgane and Glezer, (1990); and Morgane, Jacobs and Galaburda, (1986a, 1986b) have made fascinating discoveries comparing cetacean brains with the brains of modern insectivores and are developing a theory of evolution to explain these correlations. Ridgway, 1986a, 1986b, attempted to show that there should be low levels of expectation for dolphin mental abilities because of their "close" resemblance to insectivore brains. Cognitive research on language acquisition with dolphin subjects casts doubt on this line of reasoning.

Third Phase

As mentioned earlier, the Third Phase of the Dexter Cate Third Phase Alternative to Dolphin Captivity refers to a additional "third" phase of open ocean release added to the two phases of current dolphin holding facilities - training and display (show). The third phase of open ocean release gives the captive dolphin a chance to leave the control of humans. Preferably, this release is within reasonable distance of the dolphin's original home range. In order for the program to work, the dolphins will have to be "talked" back into man-made enclosures. Offering released dolphins a choice of returning to close human / dolphin interactions in man-made enclosures for 6 to 8 months of the year, through the communication benefits of human whistled language, will effectively resolve the criticisms dolphin and animal protection groups have of dolphin holding facilities. This statement assumes that mortality and fertility / reproductive problems are drastically reduced or, referably solved due to the new "dolphin friendly" environment.

The Third Phase open-ocean programs may use enclosures where the dolphins can go and be secure, day or night, but access to and release from the enclosures must be available to the dolphins. The Third Phase requires that the dolphins have access to the open ocean for at least four months of the year starting with the first year. Depending on the type of facility and the program, a flexible interpretation of the Third Phase Rule would allow dolphins access to the open ocean for one third of the day, which adds up to one third of the year. When ocean pens are used year round, some sort of gate, which the dolphins know about and how to operate with a training program involving opening and going through the gate, must remain accessible to the dolphins for eight hours per day. These various interpretations of the Third Phase Rule would allow flexibility when dealing with a dolphin's ability to handle stress.

Obviously for a program like this to work, the dolphins will have to want to stay or return to man-made enclosures. The best incentive for this is excellent treatment along with human companionship, as well as the obvious, interest generating activities. Under these conditions, these speaking / whistling dolphins would literally become ambassadors. Human ambassadors are treated luxuriously in order to keep them coming back from "visits" to their home countries. The remaining question of 'Where should dolphins from the Third Phase Facilities be release for their "ocean time"?' is complex. Although there is a strong constituency for release into the area where the dolphin was originally caught, it is a sad fact that the dolphins found today in captivity were usually caught between the ages of 2 to 4 and can be expected to have a human 2 to 4 year old's memory of their family and original habitat. Serious trauma was inflicted on the captured dolphins and their families. Most captive dolphins were denied a chance to learn their family's communication code and the culture of their extended family and gene pool. Many captive dolphins suffer severe mental illnesses from captivity and some have dependency relationships with humans. The ex-Navy dolphin Dolly, released in Florida in the sixties, is an example of a human-dependent dolphin. This dolphin has been reputed to have jumped into capture boats as well as the antics made popular by Jacques Yves Cousteau in his films and book on dolphins. Many dolphin and animal protection groups recognize that some dolphins will never be able to acculturate with their original families or any feral dolphin population. These dolphins will be, by default, the mainstay of Third Phase Dolphin Facilities with or without language as the catalyst for social bonding.

Captive cetacean species that are not coastal Atlantic bottlenose dolphins are unique opportunities to conduct research with pelagic populations. Because these species are in the minority, operations with these individuals will not be as cost effective as work with Atlantic bottlenose dolphins. More complex and expensive scientific programs will have to be developed from the profits of bottlenose dolphin programs.

Virtually all the classical dolphin research can be replicated using the Third Phase concept. Two way communication, using the word to whistle system developed by Batteau, will allow advanced and faster procedures to be used. The dolphin will not be required to undergo thousands of trials to demonstrate simple abilities and the potential for complex behavior. Boredom and the avoidance of procedure by the subjects can be removed as a variable from the research data. This more positive treatment of the research subjects can only improve the reliability of the results and make experimentation easier.

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