It can be unnerving to realize, as we roar through their living rooms, that we share our waters with such clever, observant beings.
Maybe it’s fortunate for us that they can’t tell us what they think of us — yet.
But they may be getting closer.
Earlier this month, Florida Atlantic University dolphin researcher and Guggenheim fellow Denise Hertzing announced that a cellphone-sized device now being tested in the Bahamas may allow the mammals to communicate with us. Worn around a diver’s neck, it uses mathematical formulas to decode dolphins’ whistles and clicks into human language.
“As dolphins are likely to be the second smartest creature on the planet, with similar cognitive abilities and complex social structures to humans, this device will hopefully open the window for a great understanding and connection with other sentient beings,” she said in a press release.
Lifelong dolphin watcher Joanne Semmer of Fort Myers Beach has no doubt that the mammals seek to communicate with humans. Semmer is president of the nonprofit Ostego Bay Marine Science Center on San Carlos Island, which has been studying the resident bottlenose dolphins in Estero Bay since 1995.
Though the group’s Project Pod is now on hold — awaiting a lead researcher — Semmer says a great deal has already been learned about the region’s bottlenose dolphins. Bottlenose are the only species that lives permanently in Southwest Florida, although other types occasionally visit.
“They’re just like the people in Florida,” Semmer says. “We have permanent residents and we have transients.”
The study tracks some 35 dolphins that frequent the 7.5-mile area from Bowditch Point at the north end of Estero Island to Big Carlos Pass at the south end. “They can be identified by their dorsal fins, which are as individual as fingerprints,” Semmer says.
The recognition works two ways, she says. “They got to know us too, probably by the sound of our boat. Once, when a female had just had a baby, she brought it right over to us, the way a new mother would show off her baby.”
Semmer stresses that researchers always keep their distance from their subjects — never feeding or touching them — and that others should too. It’s not just a good idea; it’s the law. The federal Marine Mammal Protection Act makes it illegal to feed or harass bottlenose dolphins (and harassment includes even touching them).
But you don’t have to make direct contact with dolphins to connect with them.
Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation education director Kristie Anders has noticed over the years that dolphins respond to human laughter or applause by breaching more often. Her theory is that dolphins are interested in watching human behavior too.
“It’s a two-way thing.”
Source: News Press.com