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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.
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.