May 16, 2012 at 2:12 PM ET
Dolphins are among the most intelligent animals on Earth, able to communicate with each other and navigate the seas with a mouthful of sounds, whistles, and clicks — many of them inaudible to human ears.
Since the cetaceans are so smart, wouldn’t it be cool to understand what they say? A team of Japanese researchers led by Yuka Mishima at the Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology has developed a new speaker that could help decipher the meaning of all the various dolphin vocalizations.
The speaker is the first of its kind that’s able to broadcast the full range of sounds dolphins make, from those in the human audible range below 20 kHz all the way up to high-frequency 170 kHz, which are too high for humans to hear.
Dolphins can even make sounds at two frequencies simultaneously. The speaker can too.
The speaker was made possible by new types of piezoelectric elements and acrylic disks to protect the electronics from the water. Details were presented Tuesday at the Acoustical Society of America meeting in Hong Kong. Check out the link for the specifics.
To date, the team has built and tested the speaker to verify that it works as advertised.
“Once the dolphin speaker is completed, it will enable us to playback a variety of dolphin sounds to dolphins, which will help to broaden the research of their acoustic abilities,” the team explains in a lay language paper prepared for the meeting.
If it all goes as planned, the researchers can begin to infer what the sounds mean by watching how the dolphins respond to the recordings. For the sake of the dolphins, let’s just hope the research is used to learn from the dolphins, not lure them into net.
— Via Popular Science
John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. To learn more about him, check out his website and follow him on Twitter. For more of our Future of Technology series, watch the featured video below.