Study: Dolphins may speak in sentences. Is that important?

“Kawili Kai” (9 mo.) at Sea Life Park Hawaii in 2004. Image: Mark Interrante

Two immediate reactions to the Christian Science Monitor story this morning about a study suggesting dolphins communicate with each other “much like humans do”:

1. Fascinating/incredible and “Thanks for all the fish,” etc..

2. A small lament.

There are a myriad of ways to communicate the interior life. All creatures around us are constantly engaged in shared song. But sapiens sapiens is a funny beast. Thanks to the pioneer/dominionist mindset that has propelled the colonization of the earth, most of us have forgotten how to hear that song.

So now we labor in the lab, seeking to confirm/deny equalities of sentience rather than sink into relationship. Until we can establish that the songs/sounds/grunts/clicks that fill the air around us have sentence structure comparable to our own, approved language that we can crack open and replicate, we keep the rest of creation distanced and subservient. Despite this research, the Order remains.

Yes. This is the sort of work that will end captive marine entertainments and force more debate over the rape of the oceans. But that it should require so much.

The Christian Science Monitor reports:

The sounds that dolphins make say far more than what meets the human ear: For the animals, those clicks and whistles are a complex chain of words and sentences, allowing them to convey messages with one another in a language that mirrors human communication, according to a new study.

After Russian researchers at the Karadag Scientific Station recorded two Black Sea bottlenose dolphins — Yasha and Yana — talking to one another, they realized that each of the animals would pause to listen as the other spoke, then respond. This pattern of communication isn’t so different from the advanced way that humans speak to one another, indicating that dolphins have a language of their own they use to identify themselves, coordinate actions, and maintain relations with the large groups in which they travel. …

“The analysis of [sounds] registered in our experiments showed that the dolphins took turns in producing [words and phrases] and did not interrupt each other, which gives reason to believe that each of the dolphins listened to the other’s pulses before producing its own,” the study, led by Dr. Vyacheslav Ryabov, said.