Exciting new research has not only managed to recreate “dolphin vision”, so that humans can now see what dolphins “see” with their echo-location abilities, but also suggests that dolphins can communicate by sharing “sono-pictorial” images.

The researchers, based in Miami and the UK, announced this week that they have successfully created the first 3D prints using data extracted from recorded dolphin echolocation. The prints are made with  process that records and isolates dolphin echolocation sounds on specific objects, then creates 2D images and uses photo analysis to extract three dimensional data from the images. The 3D data is then used to print replicas of the original objects (including a human being).

Humans can now see what dolphins see [STUDY]

Statement from research team leader

“We’ve been working on dolphin communication for more than a decade,” noted Jack Kassewitz, team leader and founder of SpeakDolphin.com. “When we discovered that dolphins not exposed to the echolocation experiment could identify objects from recorded dolphin sounds with 92% accuracy, we began to look for a way for to see what was in those sounds.”

CymaScope technology enabled creation of “sonic images”

Kassewitz and the SpeakDolphin.com team worked with John Stuart Reid, the inventor of the CymaScope, to try and find sonic images in the dolphin recordings.

The imaging process imprints sonic vibrations onto  the surface of ultra pure water. Reid explains how the system works: “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. Each dolphin click is a pulse of pure sound that becomes modulated by the shape of the object.”

For the research, Reid used Dolphin echolocation recordings to capture 2D images from the experiment, such as a flowerpot, a cube, a plastic “+” symbol, and a human being.

The next stage of the process involved working with 3D Systems, the global leaders in 3D digital design and fabrication, to transform 2D image data into a 3D-printable file. The files were then printed with 3DS’ Projet 660 printer, so that the images could be seen in full color and retaining the initial Cymascope image characteristics.

“We were thrilled by the first successful print of a cube by the brilliant team at 3D Systems,” Kassewitz commented. “But seeing the 3D print of a human being left us all speechless. For the first time ever, we may be holding in our hands a glimpse into what cetaceans see with sound. Nearly every experiment is bringing us more images with more detail.”

Dolphins “sono-pictorial” language

Kassewitz notes that after proving that dolphins actually “see” using echolocation to create “sono-pictorial” images, the next step in the project is to find out if and how dolphins may be sharing these echolocation images as part of a sono-pictorial language.

Researchers have known for some time that dolphins can communicate with each other using squawks, whistles and clicks, but now there is strong evidence that dolphins may have a method to communicate the sonic images they perceiveamong themselves.

Of note, a television documentary about the discovery of 3D images in dolphin echolocation is under production by well-known filmmaker sMichael Watchulonis and David Albareda of Devised TV.