Each year hundreds of thousands of dolphins die from driftnet and purse seine fishing, from being harpooned, from being shot as crab bait, and from pollution. Although it is already known that dolphins are large-brained, intelligent, social creatures, humans continue to slaughter these amazing mammals at an enormous rate.
Don White, President of Earthtrust, has long seen the need to establish scientific evidence that would shed light on the issue of dolphin intelligence. Project Delphis was created in 1985 by Don and by pioneer dolphin advocate Dexter Cate as an innovative and positive project to investigate and assess dolphin cognition. It seeks to bring about a clearer understanding of these friendly mammals, to publish the significant discoveries in the scientific literature, and to share the information with the world at large. It is Earthtrust's profound hope that new perceptions of dolphin intelligence will motivate humans to respect and protect these friendly people of the sea, and their natural ocean habitat.
Project Delphis is a conservation effort to save wild dolphins, as well as an international dolphin behavior and cognition research project. Its purpose is threefold:
1. to save dolphins in the ocean from the holocaust they currently experience. By learning all we can about the intelligence of dolphins, and sharing these findings with the global public in an effort to raise people's awareness about these animals, it is hoped this information will further dolphin conservation efforts worldwide.
2. to conduct scientific research on the behavior and cognition of dolphins and learn more about their minds, and contribute these findings to the scientific literature;
3. to enrich the environment of these dolphins by offering a vehicle for their recreation.
Construction of the first Project Delphis underwater viewing laboratory was completed in July 1990 in Waimanalo, Hawaii. Research on perception and self-consciousness began immediately. That lab functioned until late 2002, building up a huge archive of recorded data and preparing the Delphis program for its next steps.
[50K GIF Schematic of Underwater Lab]
Research At Project Delphis
Our research methodology is unique for scientific work with dolphins: all work is done purely on the dolphins' own motivation, with no food reward.
Do Dolphins Perceive Television As Reality, Or Just Fancy Lights?
A central goal of Project Delphis is to devise and perfect flexible interfaces between dolphins and computers for use in multiple labs and situations worldwide. As a first step, a basic method of operation in the Delphis program is to interact with the dolphins and explore their mental abilities and characteristics using a computer and TV monitor. [83K GIF Photo of Interior of Lab] The dolphins were shown a videotape of a trainer feeding them. It was anticipated that if the dolphins viewed TV as reality, they would swim to their feeding area. These dolphins first tried to catch the fish they saw being thrown on the screen, and then swam off to their regular feeding location. This response indicated a positive reality test: the dolphins accepted the small TV image as a representation of reality.
Experimental psychologists have measured self-awareness by observing an animal's reaction to its mirror image: if it uses the mirror for self-examination, it implies a mental concept of self. This cognitive ability is only seen in the most advanced minds. Self-awareness has been demonstrated in the apes and man by anesthetizing the subject, marking his forehead, and watching his reaction when he wakes up: when he sees the mark in a mirror, does he investigate it by touching himself or the mirror? By these measures, a primate touching itself indicates self-awareness, whereas touching the mirror, a social response, suggests the subject is investigating what it perceives as another individual.
We conducted this "mark test" on five bottlenose dolphins by putting a harmless sunscreen cream on their sides and videotaping their behavior through a one-way mirror. Indeed they came to the mirror and twisted and turned as if they were looking at their mark. To test whether their postures were self-aware rather than social, we conducted control experiments: (1) we compared marked to unmarked behavior; (2) we compared mirror behavior to behavior with a real stranger through an underwater barred gate; and (3) we let the dolphins watch themselves on TV, both real-time and playback, and compared the two. The results of the mark tests and all control experiments strongly suggest self-awareness in the bottlenose dolphin. Our work has subsequently been repeated by independent labs with the same result.
If true, this is a profound result: previously, no animals except a few of the great apes - man and his nearest kin - have shown this trait. Finding self-awareness in a creature whose evolutionary history is separated from ours by 60 million years may say something fundamental about the evolution of intelligence in mammals, and perhaps the evolution of intelligence in this universe.
Scientific treatment of the self-awareness research appears as a chapter in the book Self-Awareness in Animals and Humans: Developmental Perspectives (Eds. Parker, S., Mitchell, R., and Boccia, M., Cambridge University Press, 1995). This entire chapter, including figures and photos, is available here. Extensive treatment has also been carried in the international science journal Consciousness and Cognition (Volume 4, Number 2, June 1995). Included in this journal is our paper outlining our research results, followed by commentary articles from a range of other animal awareness researchers. This commentary is followed, in turn, by our rebuttal to various comments presented by the other authors.
Underwater Touch Screen For The Dolphins
Since dolphins cannot interact with computers using traditional means, we have searched for alternate methods which will allow them to interact with their Mac computer. We tried to teach the dolphins to use an acoustic joystick, a way of controlling a computer cursor with sounds. They did not show sustained interest in the concept, and in the early 90's the logistics of programming the computer to recognize their complex sound was problematic. However during initial tests using a TV display device which responds to sound with light patterns, the dolphins controlled the display by squeaking their rostrums against the underwater windows in their tank. This suggested the design of an underwater touchscreen. During 1992 and 1993 we worked with Carroll Touch, (now Elo TouchSystems) in Texas, one of the country's major touchscreen manufacturers. Their design is dolphin safe: infrared beam production and sensing electronics are in the lab, and a "reflector frame" on the dolphin side of the underwater window bends the beams 90 degrees so they run parallel to the window surface. Control of the computer through touch allows the dolphins to run programs that to make choices in various experiments devised to explore their mental abilities and preferences. Carroll Touch has a special page on their web site devoted to the dolphin touch screen.
Dolphin interacting with touchscreen at Project Delphis. The inset is what the dolphin sees on the screen, which he/she can manipulate to produce different effects, e.g. music, sounds, visuals, etc.
Underwater Bubble Sculpture
SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN READERS: Click here for additional photos of dolphin bubble ring sculpture. Email or phone EarthTrust to get involved or make a donation to the next-generation research. Please also see Dr. Ken Marten's testimony to Congress on the "Dolphin Death Bill" which altered the definition of 'dolphin safe' tuna in the USA.
A physicist would marvel at some of the play behavior observed in young dolphins at the Project Delphis laboratory. They blow underwater bubble rings
by injecting air into water vortices, about the thickness of a straw and 1 to 2 feet in diameter. The rings don't rise to the surface! The babies play with these underwater toys by moving them around with their rostrum, or biting them. They even bounce the rings off the wall, and elongate them with a flick of their dorsal fins into 15 foot corkscrews.
[Photo of dolphin with vertical-type ring]
Photos of dolphins with horizontal-type bubble rings:
["Lord of the Rings, Photo 1" 66K GIF]
["Lord of the Rings, Photo 2" 50K GIF]
We wrote up our observations and analyses of this phenomenon in a scientific paper, published in the August 1996 edition of Scientific American. You can also read more here in an article titled Mystery of the Silver Rings by Earthtrust President and Project Delphis founder Don White.
How Do Dolphins Communicate With Each Other?
Communication between a mother dolphin and her two-year old baby was explored using a two-way acoustic and one-way video link set up between two tanks. The baby dolphin was able to talk to its mother on the phone, as well as see her on the TV monitor. The result was an intense exchange of conversation between the two with the baby vocalizing and its mother responding. We are still analyzing recordings of this experiment. While dolphins do not seem to have a linear language like humans do, it seems like some high-level communication is taking place.
Elevating People's Knowledge About Dolphins
Earthtrust and Project Delphis' goal is to share our findings with the public. Early methodological developments and the TV as reality experiment were shown on Good Morning America. Early phases of our self-awareness research were presented on Nature on PBS. Several million high school students learned about our work through a story done by the educational program Channel One. In fact, Delphis has spawned hundreds of documentaries and articles around the world, presenting dolphins as thinking beings deserving of protection.
As noted above, scientific treatment of the self-awareness research appears as a chapter in the book Self-Awareness in Animals and Humans: Developmental Perspectives (Eds. Parker, S., Mitchell, R., and Boccia, M., Cambridge University Press, 1995). This entire chapter, including figures and photos, is available here. Extensive treatment has also been carried in the international science journal Consciousness and Cognition (Volume 4, Number 2, June 1995). Included in this journal is our paper outlining our research results, followed by commentary articles from a range of other animal awareness researchers. This commentary is followed, in turn, by our rebuttal to various comments presented by the other authors.
Stories on Project Delphis have appeared in California, Oregon, and Hawaii newspapers, Japan Newsweek and MacWorld magazine, as well as local Hawaiian news magazine programs. Project Delphis is also featured in a seven-part German documentary on dolphins being distributed in five languages, a national prime time Japanese public television special on animal cognition, and a British-produced program titled Dolphins: In the Wild starring Robin Williams, who was filmed clowning with the dolphins at Delphis in 1994. [Photo of Robin Williams and the dolphins at Project Delphis, 50K GIF]
In 1992, rock artist Kenny Loggins--long a supporter of Earthtrust and a member of Earthtrust's International Advisory Board--visited Project Delphis and sang for the dolphins. Footage of this unique experiment were later carried in a Kenny Loggins television special titled This Island Earth. More information on Kenny's work on behalf of the environment can be found on Kenny's WWW page.
In addition to advancing the scientific literature on the subject of dolphin cognition, the findings that result from the research at Project Delphis are shared with the global public. The hope is that new insights into dolphin intelligence will motivate humans to protect these amazing mammals in their natural ocean habitats throughout the world.
Project Delphis Is A Program Of Earthtrust
Earthtrust is an international research and educational organization dedicated to the preservation of wildlife and the natural environment. Founded in Hawaii in 1976, Earthtrust has developed a wide variety of innovative campaigns which protect whales, turtles, dolphins, Asian wildlife, and more. The nonprofit tax-exempt organization is funded by donations and grants from foundations, corporations and individuals.
Project Delphis' initial Research Director has been Dr. Ken Marten [Photo of Ken at Lab Window 33K GIFF], an experienced animal cognition researcher and former observer on purse-seine tuna boats. After witnessing first hand the "dolphin holocaust" aboard the tuna boats, Dr. Marten devoted himself to advancing scientific understanding--and public awareness--of the unique dolphin mind.
Our Research: Past and Present
Past groundbreaking studies of dolphin sensory perception, cognition and communication
The Dolphin Institute was formed initially in-part to support and enhance the world-renowned dolphin and whale research center at the Kewalo Basin Marine Mammal Laboratory (KBMML), located in Honolulu. KBMML was founded in 1970 by University of Hawaii professor Dr. Louis M. Herman.
Between 1970 and 2004, a principal focus of work by KBMML and TDI was on describing in detail the cognitive capabilities, limitations, and specializations of bottlenosed dolphins resident at KBMML. Innovative studies examined dolphin visual acuity and auditory discrimination; visual and auditory learning and memory; the interrelation of echoic and visual systems; capabilities for behavioral and acoustic imitation; self-reports of behavior; the ability to understand symbolic reference to real-world objects; the ability to interpret and respond to television scenes and images; and the ability to process and act on the semantic and syntactic information present in instructions given
through special artificial languages. Through these studies, KBMML and TDI researchers described many of the fundamental cognitive, behavioral, and sensory capabilities of bottlenose dolphins and illuminated the world community about dolphin intelligence including how dolphins may perceive and interpret their world. For synopses of some findings from our studies of dolphin perceptual abilities, cognition, and communication, please click on the dolphin research topics to the left. For more detailed information, please refer to the references at the end of each description. In addition, you can find a complete list of our dolphin research publications, as well as abstracts from many of the papers, in the menu to your left.
Current studies of wild spinner dolphins off Leeward Oahu
Along the Waianae coast of Oahu in early morning hours, spinner dolphins (Stenella longirostris) gather in shallow inshore waters (< 17 fathoms deep, median depth = 11 m) in Makua Bay, Pokai Bay, and Kahe Point after foraging at night in deeper waters (Lammers, 2004). These areas are used by the dolphins for resting, nursing, and social interactions. Dolphins are often observed milling in these areas in groups ranging from two to a hundred or more individuals. Often, large groups contain smaller sub-groups of individuals that vary unequally in sex and age-class (calves versus non-calves). Occasionally, individual dolphins may display surface-active behaviors (e.g., various in-air spins, slapping various body parts on the surface). In general, feeding is absent from bay behaviors.
To date, studies of the Leeward Oahu spinner dolphins have focused on general characteristics of the population for example their resting habitats, travel routes during times of the day, and general activity levels. (Lammers, 2004). Additionally, some work has been performed studying spinner dolphin acoustics (Lammers & Au, 2003; Lammers, Au, & Herzing, 2003; Lammers, Schotten, & Au, 2006). Although one published study examined long-term resights of a few spinner dolphins (Marten & Psarakos, 1999), little attention has been directed toward the underwater social interactions in conjunction with communication between individual spinners within and between groups.
Under Federal Research Permits, The Dolphin Institute is starting a long-term study of the social associations and underwater behavior and communication of spinner dolphins along the Leeward coast of Oahu. We will concentrate on photo-identification and concurrent behavioral recordings of social interactions of individual spinner dolphins. The gender of individuals will be determined through underwater observation. Sizing of individuals will be accomplished through underwater videogrammetry and related systems. Finally, communication will be investigated by recording vocalizations using passive acoustics (e.g., hydrophones that are part of the underwater video set-up). By recording behavior simultaneously with acoustics and individual body lengths and genders, we will determine the age/class and sex composition of various social groupings of spinners and examine how different vocalizations correspond to different behavioral states and interactions.
Past and present studies of Hawaii's humpback whales
Each winter TDI carries out studies of the humpback whales that migrate to Hawaiian waters for breeding and calving. KBMML pioneered research on Hawaii's humpback whales beginning in 1975. The research is directed towards an understanding of demographics, distribution, migration, social behavior, reproductive roles, and vocal communication of this species. Individual life histories of humpbacks are studied by matching identification photographs of whales across seasons. During our more than 30 years of study, we have
developed the largest whale identification catalog of any individual group in the North Pacific. Our studies have been conducted around all the main Hawaiian islands as well as in the whales' summer feeding grounds of Alaska. Our findings have contributed significantly to the understanding of the biology and behavior of humpback whales, have increased public awareness and concern for their protection, and have provided fundamental and necessary information to Federal and State agencies concerned with their conservation and recovery.
Bottlenose Dolphins Endangered Species
Written by: Atula Gupta • Edited by: Donna Cosmato
Published Jun 17, 2010 • Related Guides: Dolphins | Social Animals
Bottlenose dolphins are one of the most popular marine mammals. However, with rapid habitat destruction, harvesting, and human infestation in marine areas, the question arises – are bottlenose dolphins an endangered species like many other animals and plants under threat? Here is the answer.
The Present Status of Bottlenose Dolphins
Worldwide, bottlenose dolphins are found in the temperate and tropical parts where the temperature is between 10O to 32O C. They are found in parts of Japan, Australia, California, Chile, Hawaiian Islands, Norway, South Africa, Indonesia, Gulf of Mexico and the tropical and sub-tropical waters of the western pacific.
The dolphins prefer two types of habitats – coastal and open oceans, and according to that they have been divided into two forms – the coastal and the off shore bottlenose dolphins. But all year round there are coastal populations that migrate to rivers, estuaries, and bays and offshore dolphins that come to the pelagic waters along the continents.
Bottlenose dolphins are social animals and are generally found in a group of 2 to 15 with offshore herds even having close to 100 individuals. They also hunt in groups.
Are bottlenose dolphins an endangered species? As far as the status of these dolphins is concerned according to the IUCN red list, bottlenose dolphins cannot be termed as endangered as far as the official statistics go. This is because there is not sufficient data available on their population. Although the chromosomal banding technique has helped in the population estimate and identification of the dolphins, the overall world population of these cetaceans is still not definite. And yet, the worldwide threat to animal and plant populations due to limitless destruction of the ecosystem and their habitats by man, has affected the bottlenose dolphins too and there are numerous threats to the future survival of these creatures.
Threats to Bottlenose Dolphins
The bottlenose dolphins feed on a variety of prey items including fish, squid, and other crustaceans. Because of constant pollution of water bodies and habitat destruction many of the species the dolphins feed on have become endangered and therefore the lack of food is giving rise to a situation where the dolphins suffer too. The depleting population of these dolphins in the Dutch North Sea coast is one such case, where the disappearance of the Zuyderzee herring population has led to insufficient food for the dolphins, thus causing their migration to other waters.
Approximately 4,000 to 5,000 dolphins get entrapped in fishing gear in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean. Gillnets, purse seines, and shrimp trawls are all dangerous to dolphins, which get caught in the nets. Even when fishermen release the dolphins back into the water, there are many that cannot survive because of the damage done to their fins.
With increasing human activities in seas and ocean including marine tourism, humans feed wild dolphins and harass them directly.
Pollutants dumped into the water and chemical spills make more and more areas, especially the coastal areas, unsuitable for any life forms and the dolphins usually migrate to other areas.
There are still many countries, like Japan, that directly hunt dolphins and kill a few hundred dolphins each year.
With more need for land space, many coastal areas are being reclaimed for human use. This again robs the bottlenose dolphins of their precious homes.
Bottlenose dolphins are not endangered, but there are more than enough reasons threatening their survival in the future. To ensure that these social animals keep surfing the waters in the same carefree way, it is important to implement some strong regulatory measures related to fishing, use of proper fishing nets, and conservation of areas where the dolphin population is dense.
Where do dolphins live?
All over the world — from colder northern and southern waters to warm tropical waters. The bottlenose dolphin prefers warmer water.
How fast do dolphins swim?
We don't know how fast most dolphins swim but bottlenose dolphins typically swim at 3 to 7 miles per hour. They can go over 20 miles per hour when they work hard. The body shape of a dolphin helps it swim fast. A dolphin's body is shaped like a tube that is pointed at both ends. This streamlining helps the water flow over the dolphin's body as it swims.
How deep do dolphins dive?
It's hard to say how deep oceanic dolphins can dive because most of the 32 species have not been studied. Bottlenose dolphins are shallow divers and typically don't go deeper than 150 feet. In the Indian River Lagoon the deepest waters are only 10 to 12 feet deep.
How do dolphins stay warm?
Even though dolphins are warm-blooded, and their internal temperature is about 98 degrees, they need to conserve their body heat in colder water. Like most whales, the dolphin's body is surrounded by a thick layer of fat (called blubber) just under the skin that helps keep the dolphin warm.
What do dolphins eat?
Mostly a variety of fish and squid, depending on what part of the ocean they live in. The bottlenose dolphins in the Indian River Lagoon eat mostly fish because there aren't many squid in the lagoon. A dolphin's cone-shaped teeth interlock to catch fish. Their teeth are not used to chew, and they swallow their food whole.