Chapter Fifteen The Dolphins Revisited
In the dyad, we have decided to go back to the dolphin work, examine it very carefully, and do some entirely new work with the dolphins. Dolphins are very exciting to work with. They are playful, curious and develop very close attachments for humans. They are infinitely patient with us. In all of our work with the dolphins no one was badly injured over the thirteen-year period. Most of us in working with them in water received black-and-blue marks or scratches on our skin at one time or another when we pushed the dolphins too far. Their discipline with humans in the water is really amazing. If they do not want you in the water they bang their beaks against your legs just hard enough to move you out of the water. If you insist on coming into the water, they may scratch your skin with their teeth in a very precise controlled fashion. When I remember that a dolphin can bite a six-foot barracuda in two with those teeth I can imagine them biting my leg or my arm in two; however, this never happened in spite of this capacity to do so.
The largest of the dolphins are Orcinus orca and are in captivity in large numbers in the United States, Canada and Eng-
land. At no time have any of these huge dolphins injured the people that swim with them.
This is the most astonishing property of these large brains— their gentleness, forbearance and their care of us. The dolphins we worked with over the thirteen-year period, had brains 20 to 40 percent larger than ours. Orca has a brain three times the size of ours. To give you the background, let me give you some of the characteristics of the detailed anatomy of these brains and of the detailed anatomy of their sound communicating and sonar apparatus.
I spent the years from approximately 1955 to 1968 working practically full time with the dolphins. During that period I wrote the books: Man and Dolphin and The Mind of the Dolphin in addition to Programming and Metaprogramming in the Human Biocomputer. Each of these books deals with the problems that humans have in being faced with an alien species with a brain size equal to and larger than the human brain.
Much work has been done upon the brain of the dolphin showing its superb complexity and its detailed structure on a microscopic scale. Prior to the work on the brain done by Dr. Peter Morgane, Dr. Sam Jacobs and Dr. Paul Yakovlev, there were no preserved brains of dolphins or whales examined. All of the materials previously investigated had deteriorated owing to postmortem self-digestion.
These early specimens from the last century and the early part of this century had a low cell count owing to the autodestruction of the cells caused by this rather warm brain lying on the beach or on the deck of a factory ship.
Morgane, Jacobs and Yakovlev developed three dolphin brains that were totally preserved so that every cell was still present. When we looked at these sections, I suddenly realized that these resembled the human brain to the point where the unpracticed eye could not tell the difference between the cortical layers of the human and those of the dolphin. The only significant difference was that the dolphin had a thicker layer number one on the outside of the cortex. From studies of the 11,000 microscopic sections made of these brains, Morgane, Jacobs and Yakovlev have been writing many scientific papers and are
currently preparing an atlas of the dolphin brain. The material they have used for this atlas is better than anything that has been done to date on the human brain.
Those results show that the dolphin's cell count is just as high per cubic millimeter as is that of the human. The material also shows that the connectivity—i.e., the number of cells connected to one and other—is the same as is that in the human brain. They have also shown that there are the same number of layers in the cortex of a dolphin as there are in that of a human.
In other words, this brain is as advanced as the human brain on a microscopic structural basis.
They have also shown that the dolphin brain has quite as large "silent areas" as does the human brain. Let me explain.
We have frontal lobes and parietal lobes, the greater part of which are silent, i.e., there are no direct motor outputs or sensory inputs from or to these portions of our brain. It is the silent areas that distinguish us from the chimpanzees and from the gorillas. We have, of course, an anthropoid brain, but it has been enlarged only in the silent areas.
An examination of the brain of Tursiops truncatus, the bottle-nose dolphin of the Atlantic, shows that their brain has enlarged over that of the smaller dolphin's brain, purely by an increase in the size of the silent areas, even as we have enlarged silent areas from those of the chimpanzees. Even as our brains, in increasing in size over the chimpanzees' expanded in the silent areas, so did the dolphins as they grew larger brains. (The current smaller dolphins have brains the size of a chimpanzee and are decreased in size in the silent area region over that of the larger dolphins.)
What do the silent areas do? Presumably these are the areas of our brain in which we do our major central processing (computations) as humans. That which we value most as humans (as opposed to smaller-brained animals) is in these silent areas. They are the association areas for speech, vision, hearing and motor integrations and for relating these to all other activities of our bodies.
In all other regions the dolphins are comparable to us with some differences. Their visual system is one-tenth the speed of
ours; however, they make up for this in that their sonic and acoustic systems are ten times the speed of ours. This means that the dolphins can absorb through their ears the same amount of information—and at the same speed—that we do with our eyes. We can absorb through our eyes ten times the amount of information that the dolphins can through theirs.
This means that we are dealing with a species that is primarily acoustically oriented. We are primarily visually oriented. Our visual orientation is built into our language so that we, in general, talk as if we were watching and seeing and analyzing what we are talking about as if seen.
In contrast, the dolphins "see" with their sound-emitting apparatus and the echoes from the surrounding objects underwater. Remember that half the twenty-four-hour day, during the night, their eyes do not need to function. Remember that they must be able to "see" underwater in the murky depths during the day as well as during the night. They must be able to detect their enemies, the sharks; they must be able to detect the fish that they eat, and they must be able to detect one another in spite of a lack of light; therefore, they have an active processing mechanism for sound that is immensely complex.
Over the years we have examined the sound-emitting apparatus of the dolphins very carefully, both anatomically and physiologically. As is presented in The Mind of the Dolphin they have three sonic emitters, two of them (nasal) on their forehead, just below the blowhole, anterior to the brain case. They have their third one in their larynx which crosses their foodway in the nasopharynx.
We put small hydrophones on the sacs in the top of their heads on each side of the blowhole and followed what they could do with these two sonic emitters. It turned out that they have total independent control of these two emitters and that they can whistle on one side while clicking on the other and change over from one to the other. They can also control the phase of what is emitted by controlling the timing of these two emitters. The laryngeal emitter produces extremely short clicks that are used in their "fine structure" sonar. The sound from the larynx is propelled through the head forward in the two rows of teeth, eighty or more, which acts similarly to a "yagi antenna"
for transmitting a very narrow band of frequencies, around one hundred and sixty thousand hertz. This dental yagi also works for reception concentrating the return echoes in the same frequency band and thus reducing the noise of the sea and enhancing the signal from these clicks. We measured the tooth structure and the wavelength of the emitted sound. We found that the spacing of the teeth was exactly half a wavelength of the sound being emitted and received. This is a very sophisticated system with which the dolphins cannot only get the distance of objects but they can get the composition of those objects in terms of density. They emit this beam and scan one another's bodies. If one gets into a pool with them, they immediately turn on their sonar and scan one's body. This is one of their forms of recognition for individuals. (They can also recognize one visually under well-lighted circumstances.)
This sonar beam can penetrate one's body, is reflected off one's lungs, the gas in one's gut and the air cavities in one's head. A dolphin looking at one's stomach for example can tell if one is anxious or upset because the stomach tends to churn during anxiety. They can see this churning with the bubble of air that is in the stomach.
To return to the nasal emitters on each side of the blowhole. We examined these very carefully and it turns out that there are two tonguelike muscles that move anteriorly and posteriorly coming up against the edge of what is called the "diagonal membrane." When they wish to click they keep this membrane a little bit relaxed. The muscles for this membrane go down through the nasal passages (through the bone) and can be contracted in such a way as to tense the free edge of this membrane in the air passage. The tongue is then brought back forming a very narrow slit about three-quarters of an inch long through which they blow air into sacs above the membrane and sacs below the membrane. This means that they have the ability to push air back and forth through this narrow slit. We set up a model of this and showed that when the edge is tight, whistling takes place when air is blown between the membrane and the tonguelike muscle. When the edge is more lax, clicks form as air is blown through the slit.
We also showed that they can do stereo effects by controlling
the phase on the two sides of the head, which means that they can also polarize the sound so as to distinguish it from the surrounding sea noises.
With such a degree of sophistication of their emitters and an equal sophistication on their receivers, their ears buried inside their head, they can do amazing things with this apparatus.
For example, a dolphin can distinguish the difference between a one-inch diameter, one-sixteenth-inch thick aluminum disc against a concrete wall versus a copper disc of the same dimensions, when this is hidden behind a visually opaque but a sonically transparent screen.
Two dolphins communicating sound like three dolphins. They may face each other and use the laryngeal tight sonar beam for communication when they do not want somebody else to know about their communication. We often found them doing this in our laboratory, and every so often we had the opportunity of having a hydrophone between them and we would then detect the fact that they were doing this. We could not hear it of course, it was too high a frequency for our ears, but we could show it on a cathode-ray oscilloscope and record it on high-frequency tape recorders.
I do not think that dolphins distinguish their sonar from their communication with the nasal emitters. The nasal emitters emit longer wavelength sound than does the laryngeal emitter. This means that they have a 360° solid angle "sonar" in the two emitters near the blowhole as opposed to the tight beam emitter of the larynx. This means that they can detect objects behind, above, below or ahead of them with the nasal emitters, and then with the laryngeal emitters they can turn on any interesting object and examine it in detail.
They do not distinguish between sonaring and communicating; in other words they are quite capable of sending holographic sonic pictures to one another with their communication apparatus. They can then use these pictures in symbolic ways similar to the way that we use the printed versions of words spoken out loud.
This implies an immense complexity of acoustic memory and of acoustic portrayal, way beyond anything that we have
achieved either in simulations in computers or in terms of concepts having to do with acoustic events. Only our most sophisticated and advanced mathematics can even approach an analysis of this kind of a system.
Most of the above work was done between 1961 and 1968 in the Communications Research Institute in the laboratory in Saint Thomas in the Virgin Islands and in the laboratory in Miami, Florida.
Over the years I gradually developed an entirely new set of assumptions based upon our work with dolphins. I realized that here was an independent being living in an alien environment whose evolution was several times the length of the human evolution. The original whales, from thirty million years ago in the Eocene period, found in rocks where the sea used to be— now land—had brain capacities of eight hundred cc's. This means that they have a longer evolution than does the human. The humanoids were found in strata that are of the order of two million years old. The humans themselves (Neanderthal, Cro-Magnon, and so forth) are not nearly this age. This means that these alien beings are much more ancient than we are on this planet. It also means that they achieved brain sizes comparable to the human a lot sooner than did the human itself.
I believe that we can presume that they have ethics, morals and regard for one another much more highly developed than does the human species. For example, they realize their total interdependence. Let me illustrate this interdependence.
All of the dolphins and whales breathe totally voluntarily. They have no automatic respiratory mechanism such as we have; if they did, they would drown when they passed out from a high fever or a blow on the head or some other reason. An automatic breathing system would mean that underwater they would breathe water when unconscious. They cannot afford an unconscious respiratory automatic system such as we have.
This voluntary respiration means then that any time a dolphin or a whale passes out for any reason, his fellows must bring him to the surface and wake him up in order that he will breathe again, or else he dies.
We saw many instances of this among the dolphins. To wake
one another up they will rake the dorsal fin across the anal/ genital region causing a reflex contraction of the flukes, which lifts the endangered animal to the surface. Dolphins support one another at the surface and stimulate the unconscious one until the respiration starts again when he is awake.
This implies that dolphins cannot afford to be very far away from one another, twenty-four hours a day, three hundred and sixty-five days a year, day and night. This also means that when a large group of dolphins becomes ill, say owing to a virus, they will beach themselves in order not to die at sea, They would prefer to die on the beach rather than to die in the depths. This explains the beaching of pilot whales and various dolphins. We have seen several dolphins come in from the deep sea and enter small shallow protected lagoons in the Florida Keys in order to recover from their illness, safe from sharks and the other predators of the sea. We have seen spotted dolphins, which are pelagic (i.e., a deep-sea species), come into very shallow water and stay there several weeks while they were recovering from their injuries.
Please pardon this long introduction to our future program with dolphins. Toni and I have decided to go back to dolphin work in depth under very stringent controlled circumstances.
As I stated in The Center of the Cyclone, I closed the dolphin laboratory because I did not want to continue to run a concentration camp for my friends, the dolphins.
I have not attacked publicly the oceanaria for keeping dolphins restrained in what they call a "controlled environment" for the following reasons.
The oceanaria have done a very great service for the dolphins and killer whales in acquainting literally hundreds of thousands of humans with their existence and with their capabilities in a circus way. The dolphins and the whales are indebted to the oceanaria for educating the human species. This has been a costly education for these species; however, I believe that this is worth it. Thousands of people are becoming more and more aware of the necessity of stopping whaling, for example. More and more people are aware that when a dolphin is beached, something is wrong and that it needs help. The oceanaria assure that we will
get closer and closer to an ability to communicate and to break the barrier between these species and ourselves. For this I am very grateful. If it weren't for the oceanaria, I would not have been able to do my initial work with the dolphins. Let me give specific examples.
Recently I attended the so-called killer whale (Oremus orca) show at Sea World near San Diego. I saw these huge dolphins treating humans in the same gentle fashion that the smaller dolphins had treated us. I saw a man ride a killer whale holding on to a loop around the whale's neck and holding on to the dorsal fin with his feet, wearing a small aqualung in case of emergencies. The whale then took him down to the bottom of this rather deep pool and then propelled himself up into the air, leaping clear of the water with the man on his back and diving immediately to the bottom of the pool again, five or six times.
This is an astounding cooperative effort on both the part of the human and the killer whale. This man has immense courage and immense trust in this huge creature. On the other side, the killer whale has an immense trust in the humans and does everything he can to be sure that that man can breathe at the proper timing so that he does not drown. This requires a discrimination and a careful timing of the dives and the leaps in such a way that the man can survive. He then delivers the man to the side of the pool so the man can step off safely. This is an incredible performance. I could hardly believe it the first time I saw it. Without the beautiful organization of the oceanaria such feats would be impossible.
I originally saw the potential of this sort of work when Ivan Tors made the movie Namu—The Killer Whale. The movie crew swam with the whale in a lagoon. There is one scene in that movie in which there is one person riding on the back standing up and holding on to the immense dorsal fin, another swims up near the huge flukes and taps them and the whale lowers the flukes and allows the person to climb aboard also.
The immense sensitivity of these animals' skin allows them to detect the presence of a person and to regulate their activities in such a way as to not damage them. It is most impressive, their
careful control of their immense size so as not to endanger their human friends.
The killer whale had a very bad reputation mainly from the writings of Robert Falcon Scott (Scott's Last Voyage, published in 1913), who wrote about his trip to the South Pole. He witnessed an episode in which killer whales broke four feet of ice to investigate some Eskimo dogs around his ship next to the ice. As soon as they saw the photographer, i.e., a human on the ice floe, they went away again. This episode frightened Scott, as he wrote in his diary. He attributed many things to the whales that they did not have, such as ferocity and cunning. I believe this episode is easily explained when one knows that the killer whales came up to the edge of the ice, looked across the top of the ice and saw the dogs, but no humans there. The humans were on the ship tied up at the edge of the ice. Naturally their tremendous power in breaking the ice seemed a threat to Scott and his people.
I believe that the whales, dolphins and the killer whales know all about us, know how dangerous we are. They have been present when we have held our wars in the sea and let off depth charges; they know about our submarines, and our atomic bombs and hydrogen bombs. They know how dangerous the human species really is and they respect us as a very dangerous group. I believe that they all know that we can wipe them out if they hurt any of us and this message gets around. There was an episode written up for example in one of the skindiver magazines in which a man went out of Seattle in a forty-foot power boat made of wood and saw some killer whales. He shot through the dorsal fin of one of the male killer whales. I don't know why.
The whale turned around, came up to the front of the boat, came up in the air, grabbed the stemhead (the wooden part of the boat that holds the front of it together) and pulled the stemhead out of the boat, opening the hull above the waterline. The man then scrambled around and readjusted the weight in the boat so that the front end came up out of the water and he went back to Seattle. He then told everybody what had happened and showed his boat.
This to me is an example of the measure of the killer whale's very high intelligence. He pulled the stemhead out of the boat,
but did not sink it, so that the man could come back and, as it were, give the message “Don't shoot killer whales" to his fellow humans.
In the Communications Research Institute we did many experiments which we did not report publicly. We did a lot of quantitative work on the sonic spectrum of the dolphins. We did a lot of quantitative work on what the dolphins could do with this amazingly sophisticated system. We found for example ihat they can control their click rate, i.e., the pulses of sound that they emit in the following fashions. They can control the sonic spectral content of each of the clicks. They can control the rate of click production to a very fine degree. They can control the number of clicks that they emit to a very close value. They can change from clicks to whistles in a fraction of a millisecond. They can control the click rate from one per minute up to several thousand per second easily. They can control the acceleration and deceleration of the clicking rate to an amazing degree of accuracy.
We intend to use these capabilities in inducing them to control a computer. In the Institute we set up a teaching program to teach them how to control a computer through a code, a machine code using their clicking.
In the new project we intend to pursue this. Since the days we were working with the computer many new micro- and minicomputers have been devised that are suitable for this kind of work. We have already started our work on the software necessary for this.
What are the assumptions behind this kind of work? The assumptions are that there is a very sophisticated, very developed, alien mind behind this type of communication and we assume that they already have an immensely complex language based upon acoustic pictures analogous to our words and sentences. They have probably developed a sonic picture language.
We intend to unearth this language, to make it more obvious to us, to perform transformations of it to a visual representation (a “holograph") from their acoustic representation.
We intend also to establish that this very sophisticated animal has an acoustic language probably as complex (if not more so)
as any human language and that they can learn to control a high-speed computer.
The reason for using a high-speed computer is that the dolphins can transmit and receive so rapidly that a human operator cannot possibly keep up with them in their natural state. We found in the Institute that dolphins will accommodate to the humans' slowness and the humans' lower-frequency range of transmission, but they do so with great difficulty. Our language is a very narrow band in their frequency spectrum and seems very slow to them, at least something of the order of five to ten times.
These are the reasons that Toni and I are going back to work with dolphins. We have found that the amount of interest in dolphins and the technical advancement in computers has gone up tremendously since 1968 when I closed the Institute.
We can now do much more sophisticated software, much higher speed operation of computers, than we could do then.
We want to break the communication barrier and believe it can now be done—with the cooperative efforts of many persons working on these problems knowledgeably, with the dolphins (Tursiops and Orcinus).