In the mainstream media, dolphins have often been portrayed as benevolent protectors (“Flipper”), naïve creatures (“Day of the Dolphin”) and sometimes even ruthless predators (various documentaries).
But for Kathleen Dudzinski, a Meriden native who has been studying dolphins for more than 20 years, Hollywood has often missed the mark.
The movies and programs “are good, but they are often one-sided,” said Dudzinski, director of the Dolphin Communication Project, a nonprofit organization that studies the marine mammals. “Dolphins are what I call complete social animals — they have good days and bad days; they can interact, play and be aggressive; they are a lot of different things.”
More than 10 years ago, Dudzinski joined a group of scientists in an effort to reveal the truth about the marine mammals when she appeared in “Dolphins,” an Academy Award-winning IMAX documentary.
Dudzinski will discuss her research and the making of the film during a lecture on Thursday, June 9, at the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk, USA prior to a screening of “Dolphins.”
Directed by Greg MacGillivray, the film centers on a team of scientists who study a variety of dolphin species, from the bottlenose dolphin to the dusky dolphin to the Atlantic spotted dolphin. In the film, Dudzinski demonstrates her video-audio recording device that helps to isolate which dolphins are making whistles, clicks and other vocalizations in the wild.
“It was really cool,” said Dudzinski of her role in the film. “I had never been part of a movie production. It was a treat to see what other people see when I’m doing my work.”
The film is bolstered by narration from actor Pierce Brosnan and music by singer/songwriter Sting.
Dudzinski had the chance to appear in “Dolphins” after Bernd Würsig, her adviser at the Marine Mammal Research Program at Texas A&M University and a co-star of the film, suggested her to MacGillivray for the cast.
Dudzinski began her research while attending the University of Connecticut, graduating as University Scholar with a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences in 1989. She completed and was awarded her doctorate in wildlife and fisheries sciences, with a focus on dolphin communication and behavior in 1996.
With guidance from Würsig, she designed and built a new system for simultaneously recording the behavior and vocalizations of dolphins underwater. For this work, Dudzinski received the Fairfield Memorial Award for Innovative Research at the 10th Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals in 1993.
The device has helped to clear up many misconceptions about dolphin communication.
“Contrary to what Hollywood would have you believe, dolphins are swimming ventriloquists,” she said, adding that dolphins don’t open their mouths when they communicate; rather, they make sounds using internal structures just below their blow holes.
Dudzinski’s upcoming visit to the Maritime Aquarium is an encore appearance; her first was in 2000 when “Dolphins” was initially released. She is looking forward to her return, and engaging a new group of animal lovers on the facts about the world’s most popular flippered friends.
“It was a thrill to see kids being really excited about the film and dolphins,” Dudzinski said of her visit more than a decade ago. “Now I’m going to answer questions for the next generation.”