sheilapic76/FlickrWhen a dolphin clicks and squeaks, it is usually using these high-pitched sounds to "see" its underwater environment.
Dolphins, and other toothed whales, use echolocation to help them identify objects underwater when it gets too dark to see with their eyes.
The animals emit sounds, and when these sounds hit something, they bounce back for the dolphins to interpret. Bats use echolocation, too.
SpeakDolphin, a non-profit that aims to help dolphins communicate with humans, claims that by recording these sounds and interpreting them with a device called a CymaScope, they were able to show what a dolphin "saw" when it looked at a man underwater.
First, here they are:
SpeakDolphinThe enhanced image on the right looks like a man. But it's unclear how SpeakDolphin actually made these images.
But these images aren't supported by any published science and the process used to create them hasn't been vetted through the peer-review process.
Jack Kassewitz, founder of SpeakDolphin, told Tech Insider says they've been collaborating with physics and cognition researchers: "At every stage, we've gone to the best researchers in the world that we have."
So Tech Insider asked Justin Gregg, a senior research associate and vice president of the Dolphin Communication Project who isn't associated with SpeakDolphin and hasn't collaborated with Kassewitz, about the find. He dug into the CymaScope's unknown scientific history in his book, "Are Dolphins Really Smart?"
He told Tech Insider that he couldn't speculate on how the images were made or on the claims that SpeakDolphin was making about them based only on a press release.
Kassewitz told Tech Insider that he chooses to publish his research in book format instead of journals so people don't have to buy a journal article to read the research. He said: "We do open source. I publish and let people help us. If you can find something wrong with it, help us."
Gregg said he and other dolphin researchers have tried finding out more about CymaScope from the UK lab and SpeakDolphin the last time they released images, but received no response.
Gregg said he is reserving judgment until he sees published and peer-reviewed studies on their technology.
"The researchers involved in generating these images have not published any scientific articles (peer-reviewed or otherwise) which would allow the scientific community to evaluate what is going on with their work," Gregg wrote in a blog post on the latest images. "The scientific community is waiting on published studies to properly determine the legitimacy the claims being made."
In the press release, SpeakDolphin says they obtained these images by submerging a man underwater with a female dolphin named Amaya at the Dolphin Discovery Centre in Puerto Aventuras, Mexico. He recorded Amaya's noises with a high frequency microphone, and then SpeakDolphin sent the audio to the CymaScope lab in the UK.
"The basic principle of the CymaScope instrument is that it transcribes sonic periodicities to water wavelet periodicties, in other words, the sound sample is imprinted onto a water membrane," said John Stuart Reid, an acoustic physics researcher at the CymaScope lab, in the press release. "The ability of the CymaScope to capture what-the-dolphin-saw images relates to the quasi-holographic properties of sound and its relationship with water, which will be described in a forthcoming science paper on this subject."
We asked Kassewitz for more clarification about the systems used, but he didn't offer more details.
While these images may be too good to be believed, we do know that dolphins can identify the size, shape, speed, distance, and direction of objects using echolocation. They are so good, they can even distinguish between objects the size of a kernel of corn up to 50 feet away, according to the National Marine Mammal Laboratory.
But it's best to reserve judgment on the idea that these images show us what dolphins can "see" with their echolocation skills.
This post was updated with comments from Jack Kassewitz, founder of SpeakDolphin.