Archive for April, 2007

Dolphins Surfing the Internet

April 1, 2007

A marine biologist at Sea World in San Diego, CA, has announced that he taught a group of dolphins there to communicate with humans via the Internet using the Mozilla Oceans 11 browser. Robert S. Perry, PhD, a marine biologist, held a press conference this morning to explain his research results. According to Perry he created a large underwater keyboard with buttons the size of bagels which the dolphins push with their snouts. Each key gives off a distinctive high frequency sound at a pitch which allows the dolphins to associate graphic shapes on each key with a specific sound. “As you know,” Perry said, “dolphins have terrific hearing so it is only natural to use sound to help them communicate with us. I limited the keypad to just ten buttons because I felt it was the optimum number. The keypad has ten buttons like a cell phone. Perry said he hooked up Mozilla Oceans 11 to the keypad because it is already designed to surf the Internet with that interface.

Plus Perry says, Oceania has a office right in San Diego so he got lots of help. “The kid who came over was dynamic, young, hip, and wanted to talk to me about viral marketing. He even had an earing. Once I convinced him there was a higher calling in science, he took the plunge and helped me to the max.” The dolphins were trained to associate sound with key buttons. So the next step was to associate the sounds with messages. For instance, the dolphins were trained to ask for fish, toys, or quiet time. After a while Perry said the dolphins got bored so he had to think up new things to keep their interest. That’s when he hit on the idea of submerging a giant plasma screen underwater and teaching the dolphins to call up images on it by using the keyboard. He hooked up a personal computer, on dry land, to the Internet and set it to Google Images as the home page. “The dolphins went nuts,” Perry said. “They got very excited when they realized when they hit the right combinations of keys they could see pictures of other dolphins, tuna, squid, or people like their trainers.”

One unhappy result occurred when the dolphins scored a picture of a killer whale. The whales are predators and hunt dolphins for food. When they saw the giant image of the whale on the underwater plasma screen, the dolphins fled to the furthest corner of the pool and had to be coaxed back to use the keypad again. “The way we did it,” Perry said, “is that we shrunk the image of the whale down to the size of a twinkie. That made it look like the whale was far away, and the dolphins came back from of their end of the pool and used the keypad again.”

For now the dolphins are still using the keypad, but Seaworld has put a dolphin friendly filter on the Internet interface to keep the animals happy. Perry says the next step is to establish a common vocabulary with the dolphins to try to understand more about what they are thinking. He’s hoping the Oceans 11 Technology in San Diego will continue to serve his research well.

Contact Robert S. Perry, PhD, Sea World, San Diego, CA or Ned Livingstone, Oceans Software, Mountain View, CA.