Researcher Jack Kassewitz of SpeakDolphin is using the iPad's touchscreen technology as a tool to enable Merlin to communicate with his trainer and researchers.
The ultimate goal according to Kassewitz is to develop a complete language interface between humans and dolphins.
The first step has been to show actual objects to Merlin like a ball or a rubber duck, and have him use his beak to touch photos of those same objects on the iPad screen. As it turns out, this task is a piece of cake for a dolphin, but it's a necessary building block in the teaching process.
Use of the iPad and other similar technology is just the latest tool in research into the brainy, fascinating dolphin.
Over 10 years ago, researchers in Hawaii used an underwater touchscreen attached to a computer to perform tests on dolphins. They discovered the dolphins weren't terribly interested in interacting with shapes and patterns on the screen, and artificial sounds didn't hold their attention, either.
But if the dolphins touched the screen and were able to see videos of other dolphins or hear dolphin sounds, they became very excited.
More Dolphin Data
- Dolphins are actually small tooth whales. They are mammals of the order Cetacea and there are about 50 species. The most widely recognized species is the bottlenose dolphin. Killer whales are the largest members of the dolphin family.
- Porpoises are often called dolphins and vice versa, but porpoises are a different species. Porpoises have blunt snouts; dolphins have beaks.
- The dolphin fish is entirely unrelated to the dolphin mammal. It is a sport fish in the mackerel family.
- Despite their long noses, or rostrums, dolphins have very little sense of smell.
- Dolphins use their bodies to communicate with other dolphins. Jumping into the air and landing on their sides on the water is a form of communication, as is slapping the water with their flippers.
- Dolphins use echolocation to navigate through the water and find food.
- Dolphins used to have legs that turned into fins when they evolved into aquatic mammals.
- Dolphins in the wild are predators. They eat fish, primarily herring, mackerel and sardines.
- Male and female dolphins sleep differently. The females rest on the surface of the water with their blowholes exposed to the air. Male dolphins sleep right below the water's surface and are prompted by a reflex action to rise out of the water to breathe periodically.
- The average age of a dolphin in the wild is 17, but they have been known to live to 50.
- Dolphins average about six feet in length. Males are typically about a half foot longer than females.
- Mating usually occurs during the spring, and calves are carried 11 to 12 months. Baby dolphins are born tail first and are able to breathe and swim within minutes.
- A dolphin's eyesight is just as good underwater as it is above water.
- Dolphin skin is delicate and can be easily injured. It also contains lots of nerve endings like human skin, which is why tame dolphins enjoy being stroked.
- Studies indicate dolphins are cultural animals, meaning they pass on new behaviors to one another. In one example reported by the Times of London, an injured dolphin in Australia was taught to tail-walk while recuperating in captivity. When the dolphin was healed and returned to the wild, scientists were amazed to see other wild dolphins tail walking. They learned the trick from the dolphin that was temporarily in captivity.