After experimenting with a captive female dolphin, researchers were able to record the high frequency sounds emitted by the animal and convert them into a computer image of what the dolphin saw.
The findings show that dolphins can produce relatively detailed images of what they see underwater by just directing their echolocation beam towards a target. Echolocation in animals acts like a sonar–the animal emits high frequency sound waves towards an object and listen to the echoes of those waves bouncing back at them from the object.
Past studies had shown that dolphins, bats and other echolocating creatures can virtually ‘see’ with sound, but the recent study showed just how accurate images in the creatures’ minds may be. Study authors argued that the images a dolphin perceives may be even clearer than what they were able to produce in the experiment, which was limited by current technology.
In their research, study lead author Jack Kassewitz and his fellow researchers watched a diver submerge himself in a pool at the Dolphin Discovery Center in Mexico with a female dolphin nearby. When the diver appeared, Amaya the dolphin started to emit the sound waves toward his direction.
The research team used state-of-the-art audio equipment to capture those sounds, which were later sent to a team of acoustic physics experts in the U.K., who used a water membrane to capture the image and a computer to enlarge and enhance it.
Scientists explained that they were able to imprint the echolocation beam on a solid object because sound emitted by dolphins gains nearly-holographic properties when it interacts with water. The entire mechanism will be described in a separate scientific study.
Nevertheless, the team was left speechless by the image, which showed the fuzzy shape of a male diver, but was unable to render the man’s facial features. Kassewitz’s team now speculates that dolphins may share those images with their peers in an mysterius language of images.
Image Source: Flickr