Scientists Capture Image Showing What Dolphins See With Echolocation

Researchers claim to have captured an image that shows how dolphins perceive the world around them using echolocation. Jack Kassewitz, founder of the Speak Dolphin research organization, created a complicated process to replicate the reflected pulses of sound.

"When a dolphin scans an object with its high-frequency sound beam, each short click captures a still image, similar to a camera taking photographs," Kassewitz said in a press release announcing the findings.

Related: Dolphin Brain Scan Reveals Surprising Similarity to Bats

Echolocation sounds from dolphins observing several objects were recorded and analyzed — a tricky process, since the sounds form not just a flat picture but one with depth information, perhaps almost holographic. The image above shows a 2-D representation of the view a dolphin had of a trainer nearby in a tank — but the original data, captured with a device called a CymaScope, was printed in 3-D as well.

"Seeing the 3-D print of a human being left us all speechless," Kassewitz said. "For the first time ever, we may be holding in our hands a glimpse into what cetaceans see with sound."

The researchers also suggest that these sound-based images might be intelligible to other dolphins, implying a "sono-pictorial language." Work is underway to study this possibility.