Aquaman and the Dolphins – what’s the truth?

Legendary under-the-sea superhero Aquaman is known for his super strength and speed, telepathic communication with animals, and ability to withstand the ocean depths then return to land with ease. In theaters now, the latest cinematic installment of the DC Universe, Aquaman, promises action-packed excitement, featuring a battle between the heir to Atlantis and his half-brother to prevent war with citizens living on land.

The ocean is Earth’s last frontier, and if Aquaman were real, there are certainly many ways in which he could help the science world. But in his absence, scientists in the real world have to get creative to achieve the feats only a fictional, conveniently-packaged half human-half Atlantean prince can.

Even then, we’ll really never be anywhere near conquering the lonely, vast ocean world—especially since so much of it is under threat. Or as Andrew David Thaler eloquently writes for the blog Southern Fried Science: “The ocean is not ours, and no matter how great our technology, we will never master it as we have mastered land, but Aquaman has.”

Aquaman and the Dolphins

Aquaman’s most unique claim to fame is arguably his ability to talk to animals, mostly marine life. Communication with animals is often a prop in all sorts of magical, fictional worlds. Researchers are always studying how different species of primates, birds, bats and dolphins learn language and communicate.

Dolphins may actually prove to be one of the easiest animals to translate, with some researchers estimating that we’ll be able to understand the beasts using artificial intelligence by 2021, reports Karla Lant for Futurism. A Swedish language technology company called Gavagai AB initially used its AI to conquer 40 human languages, before announcing in 2017 that they’re taking their tech to the animal kingdom. The startup working with a wildlife park to “compile a dictionary of dolphin language,” reports Lant.

That’s not the first time humans have used computers to chat with the intelligent porpoises—in fact, Disney even threw their hat in the ring, receiving a patent in the 1990s. Researchers at the company proposed a keyboard with pictures on each key. The keys produce sounds that, hypothetically, both humans and dolphins would understand.

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Researcher Denise Herzing wears the Cetacean Hearing and Telemetry (CHAT) device. (Wild Dolphin Project)

Marine biologist Denise Herzing and her team at The Wild Dolphin Project have been leaders in the field for quite some time. They created the Cetacean Hearing and Telemetry (CHAT) computerized vest to see if it was possible to detect dolphin calls and translate them to English. The device emits a sound that was taught to the pod of dolphins near the Bahamas that Herzing has studied for decades. What does that sound mean? Sargassum, a type of seaweed that divers often use as a toy when playing with dolphins. In 2014, they finally caught a dolphin making the sargassum sounds and CHAT translated it back to English, reports Tuan C. Nyugen for If anything, the project illustrates how smart dolphins are to learn how to communicate with humans in order to get what they want. However, as Herzing tells Nyugen, we don’t exactly know what dolphins say to each other—and that’s okay. Interspecies communication is more the point.