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“6x9” b2389 Biocommunication
17. Conversing with Dolphins:
The Holy Grail of Interspecies
Toni Frohoff*,‡ and Elizabeth Oriel†,§
*TerraMar Research, 27 W. Anapamu St. Suite 336
Santa Barbara, California 93101, USA
Sonar, 31 Greenhill Park, NW10 9AN
London, United Kingdom
The scientist’s quest for communication with dolphins can be as
fraught with mystery and mishaps as an archetypal search for the
Holy Grail. At every turn, scientists encounter millennial-old,
romantized notions about iconic dolphins teaming with logistical
challenges and plodding methodologies struggling to keep pace
with, and identify, even a singular, solid thread running through an
intricate web of data. When it comes to dolphins, scientific para-
digms merge with policy, politics, emotion, and ethics in stimulat-
ing, yet sometimes turbid, waters. Our search for clarity through
meaningful analysis to adequately (let alone elegantly) explain our
findings about dolphins can be both an enviable quest and an
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onerous duty. The mystery of dolphins continues to beckon us,
from before Aristotle to modern-day, inspiring research that
expands our concepts of who cetaceans are. We pursue a path
beneath the sea, challenging ourselves to press more deeply against
our own anthropocentric limits of biocommunication to connect
with an aquatically alien, but similarly sentient, species.
Dolphin communication and language research is often compa-
rable to studies of humans and other primates (Bearzi and Stanford
2010). The more we learn about dolphins from their neurophy-
siology and behavioral ecology to their cognition and social
behavior — the facts become more fascinating than the fables.
However, human interpretation of the marked morphological dif-
ferences between dolphins and humans can create communicative
havoc between the species. Dolphins demonstrate distinctive
physiological and psychological needs and their behavior is not
always consistent with their human-imposed, ever-friendly and
perpetually joyful media “Flipper” stereotype.
Toothed whales, including dolphins (and orcas), demonstrate
amongst the most sophisticated biocommunicative capabilities of
any animal. Aspects of their echolocation systems remain unparal-
leled, even by our most advanced human technology. From an
acoustic perspective alone, their vocal production and neural infor-
mation processing are dazzling. However, we cannot lose sight of
the subtler, yet equally remarkable, cognitive, cultural, and psycho-
logical complexities inherent in the dolphins we study and with
whom we may attempt to communicatively interact (Dudzinski
and Frohoff, 2008, Herzing and Johnson, 2015).
This chapter emphasizes the need for a more expansive, and a
multidisciplinary, approach to studying biocommunication in dol-
phins and other animals. We adopt a species-inclusive approach to
our perceptions about animal life that embodies myriad unique
forms of awareness, intelligence, culture, sentience, and even per-
sonhood. The complexities we seek to understand in dolphins and
other life forms exemplify the need to transcend reductionist and
mechanistic approaches to studying communication in other ani-
mals. This era of burgeoning data illuminating complex internal
experiences in non-human animals calls for innovative ways to
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approach the study of such capacities, especially as exhibited in
communicative interactions. One way of advancing our study of
dolphins is to correct our approach to studying them so that they
are treated less like “objects” or even “subjects” and acknowledge,
what is sometimes, undeniably, the complex, communicative, and
even collaborative relationship, occurring between humans and
dolphins. A new paradigm of research (Interspecies Collaborative
Communication) is discussed as one example of myriad methods
through which we can advance our study of human–animal com-
munication (Frohoff and Marino, 2010; Marino and Frohoff, 2011).
We also present the positive cohabitation that occurs in some
small-scale regions among dolphins, humans and coastal systems,
The grail of interspecies communication and cohabitation shines in
multispecies relationship-building, expanded notions of person-
hood, and cohabitation, in which both humans and dolphins share
a mutual thriving across coastal systems.
1. Smart, Savvy, Sociable, and Sentient
It can be uncommon for free ranging, wild animals to interact
socially with people for reasons other than food provisioning. Yet
stories of sociable and “friendly” dolphins, including those assist-
ing swimmers and boaters in distress, have been reported in
ancient and in recent times by reliable sources (Frohoff and
Peterson, 2003). Plutarch, in his treatise, “On the Intelligence of
Animals” written in 66 A.D., wrote of the dolphin, “It has no need
of any man, yet is the friend of all men and has often given them
great aid.” Friendly dolphins soliciting sociable contact with peo-
ple may be a recreational swimmer’s delight, but pose a methodo-
logical dilemma. Scientists find themselves as unwitting participants
in dolphin–human interactions, while trying to stay in the back-
ground and be as “invisible” as possible, as most have been tradi-
tionally taught to do when studying wildlife behavior in the wild.
Fortunately, cognition and interspecies communication can be
assessed in the wild through indirect measures and inference as
well as through direct tests (Marino and Frohoff, 2011; Herzing,
2015). A new era of interspecies research is taking exciting strides
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in advancing what we know about dolphins and other cetaceans
by our taking advantage of their habituation to humans, if not their
outright sociability directed toward us in the wild, and on their
terms. Systematic methodologies in which researchers actively col-
laborate with cetaceans are developing in ways that can be as rigor-
ous, albeit not as manipulative, as studies conducted in the
laboratory, aka dolphin tank (Dudzinski and Frohoff, 2008; Herzing
and Johnson, 2015).
So how do cetaceans and humans even communicate between
species (Fig. 1)? Dolphin physiology permits dolphins to com-
municate with one another through a variety of sensory modes in
a marine environment that is mostly foreign to human biocom-
munication. They are perfectly adapted to their underwater envi-
ronment, with hearing and sound production capabilities that
utilize this medium exquisitely. Dolphin communication is char-
acterized by a dynamic interplay of acoustic signals involving an
unusually rich and complex vocal repertoire, visual posturing,
and movements, chemoreception, tactile exchange (ranging from
friendly to aggressive), and use of water for making visual (bub-
bles) and acoustic (splashes) signals. For a more comprehensive
overview of dolphin communication, see Dudzinski and Frohoff
(2008), and Bearzi and Stanford (2010), Herzing and Johnson
Figure 1. A free-ranging, sociable dolphin initiates interspecies Collaborative
Research with researcher. Both © Ute Margrreff, with permission.
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Although dolphins and humans lack a common ancestor, both
have evolved similar cognitive abilities, likely for comparable
social or communicative purposes (Bearzi and Stanford, 2010).
Dolphins exhibit varied and rich social cultures, similar to those in
humans and other highly social terrestrial (e.g., chimpanzees and
elephants) and avian (e.g., parrots and ravens) species. Despite our
environmental differences, non-human primates exhibit qualities
such as self-awareness, morality, culture, empathy, and politics
(cite include mirror recognition study). And even for animals
without “hands”, the discovery of tool use in dolphins through the
mouth-held features of their natural environment — and associ-
ated cultural transmission and communication has been impres-
sive (Krützen et al., 2005). Neuroanatomical post-mortem studies of
brain size, structure and complexity in dolphins and whales also
provide important information about the neurobiological bases of
intelligence, sentience and communicative capacities (Marino et al.,
2008). Within the current framework for establishing legal person-
hood for non-human animal, these cognitive and communicative
capacities are centerpieces of the legal arguments.
2. Intraspecies Culture and Communication
We are in a new era in which evidence abounds for the presence of
culture in many non-human species. Here, we focus on culture
among cetaceans. Culture is evidenced through communication
and social learning that transmits through social structures and
networks (Herzing, 2005; Lusseau et al., 2006). Herzing and
Johnson (2015) present mechanisms of transmission of social learn-
ing among Atlantic spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis) off the
Bahamas that describe a highly complex multilayered approach to
sociality, learning, communication, and culture. Whitehead and
Rendell (2014) delve deeply into the rich ways in which cetacean
culture and its transmission are shaped by a blend of adaptations,
innate sociality, and their aquatic environment, and what the impli-
cations for such complex cultures mean for current and future
generations of cetaceans and human responsibility.
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Jared Diamond (2001) states that, especially in preliterate
societies, “Old people are the repositories of knowledge …” and
that some cetaceans rival humans in this regard. Female orcas may
live so much longer than males — by as much as 40 years
because the knowledge they exchange and possess helps the whole
group survive. Orcas and short-finned pilot whales represent a
somewhat rare phenomenon of extended post-reproductive life for
females in the mammalian world (Courage, 2010). The vital impor-
tance of culture to the survival of non-human populations and spe-
cies may be most evident in the wisdom of female orca elders
(Brent et al., 2015). Post-menopausal female orcas are knowledgea-
ble leaders who are vital to younger members of their community
by acting as “repositories of ecological knowledge” (Courage,
2010). Yet evidence indicates that knowledge of orca elders in orcas,
as in other species (such as humans, some other primates, and ele-
phants (Diamond, 2001), extends far beyond that of the basic ecol-
ogy of survival to more nuanced and intellectually sophisticated
aspects of cultural wisdom. But for the most pragmatic purposes of
protecting other species, humans can no longer underestimate
invaluable role that these elder females play in finding food for
orcas, for example (or in the case of elephants, finding water).
Discretion is warranted whenever assessing the intelligence,
awareness, culture of any other animal within the human/ape
paradigms and ecology. For example, as Barrett and Würsig (2014)
point out, the ability to echolocate in dolphins constitutes a com-
pletely foreign sensory modality for human researchers.
Echolocating dolphins may be able to see inside each other’s
bodies, even perhaps to the extent of perceiving another’s emo-
tional states. For years, ultrasonic sounds used by cetaceans were
not even considered since they transgressed the upper end of the
human hearing threshold. Similarly, it was only recently that sub-
sonic vocalizations used by elephants were discovered, and some
perspectives on elephant communication were completely rewrit-
ten (Payne et al., 1986). Thus using human-like attributes as the
yardstick by which all others are measured would not only be
misguided but could invalidate the methodology used in obtaining
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data, let alone analyzing it. Unless we acknowledge and transcend
our limited perspective as hominid researchers, we will continue to
overlook or underestimate abilities in other species simply because
we do not perceive, let alone understand them.
3. Interspecies Culture, Communication,
and Miscommunication
The wide varieties of communicative dolphin–human interactions
reveal varied levels, types and modes of interspecies biocommuni-
cation. For example, Pryor (1990) states that all social behavior may
be considered communication, including reinforcement training.
Trainer-dolphin interactions would qualify as a change in the
behavior of the receiver in response to the information provided by
the signals or signs of the sender (Philips and Austad, 1990; Smith,
1990). Play between dolphins and humans may provide the moti-
vation, as well as form a basis for, the development of mutually
understood signals necessary in interactions (Fagan, 1981).
Another view of communication is that interaction may be
interpreted as communication if the response is positive for the
sender. If the response is neutral or negative for the sender, it may
be interpreted as miscommunication (Krebs and Dawkins, 1991).
Frohoff introduced the concept of miscommunication in dolphin-
human interactions in 1993 and when studying programs in which
the public swims with captive dolphins (Frohoff 1993). Humans do
not share a large number of communicative behavioral repertoires
with dolphins.
Perhaps the most obvious example of human projections on
dolphins is what is commonly referred to as, the “dolphin’s smile”.
What humans often perceive of as an emotional expression is, on
the contrary, an upturn behind the mouth that is a completely
static feature of the dolphin’s jaw that remains through life and
through death, health and suffering (Frohoff, 2000). In this, and
many other cases, dolphins are often poorly understood due to
human cultural stereotype as well as from anthropocentrism at its
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Unless humans are exceptionally knowledgeable of, and
responsive to, the dolphins’ salient and subtle signals, not only
may interspecies miscommunication occur, but our presence may
likely interrupt activities (e.g., feeding, mating, and resting) vital to
the wellbeing of the individual dolphin(s) as well as that of entire
populations (Frohoff, 2000).
Mutually beneficial communication — or what we call, positive
or collaborative cohabitation between dolphins and humans —
may be exemplified when looking at human–dolphin fishing coop-
eratives. Scientists have documented interspecies cooperative
fishing on several continents between indigenous peoples and
dolphins that appears to have developed over time across many
dolphin and human generations. This appears to be a form of cul-
tural coevolution between dolphins and humans in some regions
of the world. Apparently, both dolphins and fishermen benefit by
mutual herding and catching of fish. Pliny the Elder (A.D. 23–79)
wrote that dolphins worked with humans to drive mullet into the
nets in the Rhone River in France. Later, Oppian reported coopera-
tive fishing at Emboea and, more recently, this practice has been
observed in the Mediterranean, North Africa, New Zealand, and
South America (e.g., Pryor et al., 1990). The Australian aborigines of
Moreton Bay also used to catch fish with the aid of dolphins
(Domning, 1991). The Amazon River dolphin and the Irrawaddy
river dolphin have also assisted fishermen consistently (Cousteau
and Diolé 1987). In Laguna, Brazil, fishermen continue to fish coop-
eratively with bottlenose dolphins as they have done for several
generations (Domning, 1991; Pryor et al., 1990). In many of these
regions, families or individuals often work exclusively with one or
several particular dolphins. This relationship sometimes extends to
the progeny of both the dolphins and the people for several genera-
tions. Apparently, these cooperative relationships are initiated and
controlled by the dolphins rather than the fishermen. Cooperative
fishing between dolphins and sea birds, such as pelicans, has also
been observed with some frequency and may provide insight into
the nature of human–dolphin fishing cooperatives (Cousteau and
Diolé, 1987).
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Thus we see a continuum in the effectiveness, degree of partici-
pation and quality of consequences in interspecies communication
and co-habitation. A range from “negative” miscommunication
resulting in deleterious impacts to “positive” communications
being collaborative and mutually beneficial can be observed.
Ideally, modes of communication between human and non-human
animals and, even ecosystems, can be further identified and imple-
mented to the betterment of individual wellbeing and population
and species survival.
4. Captivity
The charisma dolphins hold for many humans has been a part of
broad legislative protection (e.g., the US Federal Marine Mammal
Protect Act of 1972), yet conversely, has also contributed to their
exploitation by humans (e.g., captures from the wild for marine
parks and circuses). Dolphins, especially the largest of the dolphin
family, orcas, have been considered a key attraction to captive pub-
lic display facilities around the world. In the mid 1800s in the
United States, P. T. Barnum put captive dolphins and beluga
whales on public display and since then, toothed dolphins and
whales in captivity have been used for everything from research to
captive swim-with-the dolphins programs (Frohoff, 2008).
However, recent scientific discoveries and public concerns about
the ethics of capturing, and forcing dolphins to live in tanks and
pens, have been burgeoning over the past few decades (White, 2007).
This awareness has been reflected in legislation and policy around
the world, in local and national bans on the capture or captivity of
dolphins for public display. However, recent challenges to captivity
are not limited to concerns about individual welfare. Capture from
the wild has been identified as a serious conservation issue in vari-
ous regional, national, international fora especially when dol-
phins, and whales, sometimes, in large numbers, are removed from
already depleted populations (Rose and Furinato, 2006).
Previously conducted primarily in captivity, one of the main
goals of dolphin communication research has been to determine
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whether dolphins can comprehend an artificial symbolic language.
The work in captivity heretofore has provided important insights
into cetacean intelligence and cognition (Herman et al., 1993; Reiss
and McCowan 1993). Yet, captive studies are limited in external
validity for a variety of reasons. These comprise the unknown and
largely uncontrollable developmental-cognitive effects of living in
an artificial physical, perceptual, and social environment on the
generalizability of findings to wild cetaceans.
Captive studies may be confounded by the physical and psycho-
logical stress and trauma evidenced in illnesses and aberrant dol-
phin behavior (Frohoff, 2004). Also studies of captive dolphins likely
overlook behaviors and capacities that are absent or diminished in
captivity. Recently, a study of a group of wild chimpanzees revealed
that their gestural repertoire was over twice the size suggested by
studies of captive chimpanzees (Hobaiter and Byrne, 2011). Such
studies suggest that captivity may truncate capacities under some
circumstances and lead to inaccurate conclusions.
There is an arguably more compelling reason to consider adopt-
ing a new paradigm for studying cetacean biocommunication and
cognition. This has to do with the essential importance of adjusting
our behaviors, protocols, and paradigms to the very information
revealed in our scientific endeavors with them. As Marino and
Frohoff (2011: 2–3) conclude, In our view, the conclusion from dec-
ades of cumulative results of both captive and field studies is that
cetaceans possess a level of intelligence, awareness and psychologi-
cal, and emotional sensitivity that makes it unacceptable to con-
tinue to keep them in captivity if not necessary for their welfare,
survival, or conservation. “We do not deny that captive studies
have contributed substantially to this conclusion. Our point is that
now that we have this knowledge about cetaceans it is incumbent
upon us to revise our approaches to studying them.”
5. Revisiting Research: Interspecies Collaborative
The complex sentience of other animals such as dolphins must be
recognized and their physical, psychological, and behavioral needs
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appropriately protected. Further, there is much that humanity can
learn from the ethics and morals exhibited in the social behavior
extended from animals of other species (referred to as “Animality”
by Frohoff, (Crane, 2015). Accordingly, scientists are now faced
with the task of accommodating this contemporary knowledge of
cetacean neuroanatomy and behavior in ways that alter their
research approaches and priorities. Frohoff and Marino (2010) have
proposed developing ways to more directly assess cognition in
wild individuals that may replace studies in captivity and form the
basis for a more extensive cognitive ethological approach in ceta-
ceans; one that also encompasses aspects of their behavioral ecol-
ogy (Fig. 2) as well as their cultural and ethical dimensions.
There are a number of protocols available for respectfully
studying cognition and other capacities of cetaceans. New and
innovative approaches are being taken with free-ranging dolphins
who are habituated to humans, or even initiate gregarious sociable
encounters (Marino and Frohoff, 2011). Some methods used to
study captive dolphins can be potentially modified and transferred
to research on free-ranging dolphin groups or free-ranging indi-
viduals. One of the keys to being able to transfer cognitive tasks
Figure 2. Dolphins communicate using a vast array of behaviors, including
visual and tactile interactions. © Atmoji, Wildquest, with permission.
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from the captive situation to the wild is the opportunity to work
with individual dolphins one-on-one. While we discuss several
approaches below, our emphasis is consistent and firm on one
point: that it is vital for the non-humans/dolphins to be in control
of whether or not and the degree to which they participate
and encounter humans. Only in this way can we “take advantage”
of the curious or friendly ways in which some dolphins approach
and interact with humans — without literally taking advantage of
the dolphins themselves. In this regard, “respect” is the operative
word, and the wellbeing of the dolphins or other non-human ani-
mals takes priority over the success of the research.
Individuals known as lone, sociable dolphins present extraor-
dinary potential for cognitive and communicative study. Lone
sociable dolphins are free-ranging cetacean individuals who are
often solitary, yet, for one reason or another, have initiated, or par-
ticipated in, sociable interactions with humans in the wild with
some regularity (Frohoff et al., 2006; Lockyer and Muller, 2003).
Some of these individuals were orphaned and have become
separated from their social group and are truly isolated from con-
specifics. Others vacillate between interactions with humans and
members of their own (or other) species but nevertheless fall under
the category of lone sociables. There are numerous known indi-
vidual cetaceans who have fit this description; mostly bottlenose
dolphins in various regions (Tu r s io p s t r u n ca t u s ), beluga whales
(Delphinapterus leucas) in Eastern Canada and, more rarely, orcas
(Orcinus orca) in the US Pacific Northwest. And while not all of
them will be good candidates for research, many of them can be
with the right circumstances and proclivities of the individual
dolphin or dolphin group.
6. Changing Paradigms of Research
In fact, ongoing long-term field studies of social complexity, forag-
ing, and culture in dolphins and whales continue to yield some of
the most intriguing insights into cetacean behavior. Examples
include long-term studies of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops sp.) in
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Shark Bay, Western Australia, which have led to insights into vocal
learning and referential signaling in free-ranging cetaceans in the
wild (Ford, 1991; Tyack and Sayigh, 1997).
Similar methods can potentially be used to engage groups — as
well as individual lone sociable free-ranging dolphins in tests of
language comprehension. For instance, interactive underwater
keyboards containing visual symbols that dolphins could select
have been used to study these skills in captive dolphins (Reiss and
McCowan, 1993), providing a closer approximation to two-way
communication. Denise Herzing and her colleagues piloted the use
of an underwater keyboard with a habituated group of wild spot-
ted dolphins with some success. Moreover, Herzing and collabora-
tors from Georgia Tech in Atlanta are currently developing a
cutting edge technology that will potentially provide a much more
sophisticated interactive interface for human–dolphin communica-
tion in the wild (Herzing and Johnson 2015).
7. Non-Human Animal Personhood
and Communication
Communication across the species barrier has potential to build
relationships, mutual understanding and a broader circle of per-
sonhood. Individuals and cultures draw conceptual boundaries
around those viewed as “persons”, and most western developed
countries extend this privilege only around humans and some
companion animals (Ingold, 2000). Personhood designations align
closely with a culture’s matrix of values, attitudes, beliefs and with
each individual’s sense of personal identity (Oriel, 2014). Yet com-
munication across species is a grail that extends these lines of
commonality, respect, and even kinship.
Though legal “personhood” is often pursued through evidence
of mental capacities, identified through communicative capacities,
studies of biocommunication between humans, and non-human
animals suffer from reductionism when they eliminate emotional
bonds of sharing meanings. Philosopher Mary Midgely (2003) sees
evidence of “personhood” in emotional capacities or “emotional
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fellowship”, as the markers of mental capacities would grant
machines “personhood” before dolphins or apes. Communication
facilitates sharing states of mind, intention, and with this enlarged
understanding, can follow empathy and inclusion into one’s circle
of kin, friends, or “persons”.
The human/companion-animal relationship develops and
deepens through interspecies communication that relies on gestures,
expressions of the eye and face and active signals. The human often
comes to view the companion dog or cat as a person with basic or
even more advanced rights. Feminist Studies scholar Donna
Haraway says of her relations with her dog companions, “We are
training each other in acts of communication we barely under-
stand. We are, constitutively, companion species. We make each
other up, in the flesh.” (2007: 16). Does this relationality and inti-
macy, built on shared messages and meanings, occur only between
humans and domestic species, or is this possible with free-ranging
animals? Those who have had sociable interactions initiated by
habituated or, especially sociable dolphins in the wild express
similar sentiments and experience.
Solitary, sociable dolphins in the wild present what may be the
most potent examples of collaborative, social, interspecies commu-
nication in the wild (Fig. 3). For example, mutual swimming activi-
ties, interactions, and games between a local beach community and
a solitary sociable dolphin, Moko, in New Zealand, built familiarity
Figure 3. A popular, sociable, free-ranging dolphin in Ireland makes a surprise
visit. © Toni Frohoff.
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and relationships over time, with some adoring him and others
aggravated by his antics. When Moko rescued mother and calf
pygmy whales that were beached by guiding them out to open
ocean, these relationships continued to grow, evidenced by the film
Soul in the Sea, Moko’s “own” Facebook page, and personal blogs,
maintained by those who knew him. Two years after the famous
rescue, in 2010 Moko was found dead on a nearby island, and
hundreds in the community mourned his loss with a funeral service
and burial of his body in a coffin (Tornquist, 2010). The communica-
tions involved in these interactions not only influenced the direct
participants, but also many people across the world who read these
stories in the press. Moko has been one among many solitary socia-
bles, such as dolphins Mara and Fungi in Ireland, various individ-
ual belugas in Eastern Canada, and the orca, Luna, in British
Columbia (Frohoff et al., 2006), who have been treated as valued
members of an interspecies community, and raise awareness about
cetacean sentience, communicative abilities, emotional complexity,
leading to inclusion within personhood boundaries (Fig. 4).
Figure 4. Friendly gray whales initiate tactile contact with a boater in Baja,
Mexico. Both © Toni Frohoff.
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The “personhood” boundary is gradually opening and losing
the anthropocentric emphasis as many nations’ governments and
legal frameworks are offering certain animals and other life systems
inclusion (such as New Zealand, Switzerland, Bolivia, and India)
(Oriel, 2014). This mutually expansive and leveling movement,
which puts humans on the same moral and conceptual ground as
some other species will benefit those included and perhaps others
greatly, through access to legal rights and inclusion into a domain
that has been reserved for humans in the West for centuries.
In certain non-western and indigenous cultures, the concept
“person” may apply to animals, plants, humans, life systems,
climatic events, landscapes, and spirits (Ingold, 2000: 90). Cultural
studies of indigenous ontologies and work by indigenous
researchers present an inclusive model of personhood and a rela-
tional approach to the world that is mirrored in the philosophical
tradition of phenomenology. While some countries pursue biocen-
tric parameters for personhood, others have chosen ecocentrism,
which offers protection to whole ecosystems, including landforms.
Human cultures in the West have been colonized by certain
approaches to relationality (Kohn, 2013) and communication,
which finds expression in the anthropocentrism inherent in western
thought and activity. Our language has been colonized by assump-
tions about non-human animals, as we repeat derogatory phrases,
such as “dumb as a dormouse, stubborn as a mule.” Anthropologists
Kohn (2013), Ingold (2000), and Viveiros de Castro (2009) strip
through layers of cultural assumptions and write of the perception,
language, and correspondence of a more inclusive paradigm.
The “perspectivism” that Kohn (2013) draws on can form theo-
retical frameworks for human–animal communication studies in
which animals’ perspectives of themselves and their world are both
sought and considered. As Vivieros de Castro (2009) says, these
perspectives may even prove to hold meanings that are inverse
from those of humans. He contends that being in thriving relation-
ships with other animals requires adopting their perspective,
which would be a noble goal for further communication research
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on cetaceans and other species. The ability to hold another’s per-
spective creates an intrinsic conception of “personhood” toward
other beings who are viewed as having apperception and inten-
tionality. It appears that regarding individuals from other species
for who they are, as opposed to what they are, is intrinsic to our
ability to communicate with them.
8. The Grail of Positive Cohabitation with Interspecies
Interspecies communication can merge identities, merge sentience,
and promote a mutual thriving — or, what we call, a positive cohab-
itation for humans and marine mammals (Oriel and Frohoff,
2015). In certain coastal areas of the world, humans and coastal
systems and species including marine mammals, live within a gen-
eral trend of thriving and even at times, mutually collaborative
cohabitation. In these areas, awareness increases among fishermen,
ferry, and tour boat operators, leisure boaters, farmers, and other
human residents of human impacts on coastal habitats, with some
pro-actively taking measures to protect marine life. Exploring such
examples reveals the roots of a continuum of cohabitation, ranging
from neutral, passive coexistence, to active and sometimes mutual,
collaboration. These thriving scenarios are especially distinctive
when counter-poised with failing cohabitation in the Indian River
Lagoon, Florida, where large numbers of dolphins, manatees, peli-
cans, fish, and sea grasses die each year, in a so-called “ecological
collapse” (Wines, 2013; NOAA, 2013). Human cultures in these
small-scales regions of mutual thriving reside within interspecies
communities, engaged and generated through biocommunication
(Oriel and Frohoff, 2015). These communities of mutual thriving
pose models for other coastal communities, and represent an
under-researched arena within Human–Animal Studies.
The continuum of cohabitation provides a fascinating entry
into co-cultural evolution as a characteristic of positive cohabita-
tion that extends to other cetaceans, including baleen whales. In
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some regions, as in the breeding and birthing lagoons of Baja
California in Mexico, gray whales of all ages, including females
and their newly-born calves, often seek close, sociable contact
(sometimes soliciting tactile contact,) with humans in small boats.
Perhaps more surprising is that this same whale population was
almost hunted to extinction — in part in these same lagoons
when calves were injured to lure their larger mothers. Not until the
1940s did the hunting in this area cease. Yet, in these lagoons that
once ran red with blood, the whales have initiated contact and
locals respond — a stunning example of human-whale cultural
co-evolution and thriving, collaborative cohabitation.
As mentioned earlier, the fishermen and dolphins who share
foraging and fishing strategies over many centuries have also been
creating an intertwined culture across species. Dolphins seem to
enter this foraging alliance voluntarily, which makes it unique
among human/non-human animal foraging interactions. This col-
laboration creates a tangible mutual thriving, and provides rich
terrain for interspecies communication studies. In a region of
coastal Vietnam, fishermen worship whales as part of a whale-
centered religion, evidently instigated by stories of whales saving
community leaders. Stories about whales saving humans (or Moko
saving pygmy whales) can be central to interspecies cultural and
emotional bonds, as do stories about transformations between
human and cetacean forms for certain indigenous people like the
Noonuccal tribe in Queensland, Australia (Cressey, 1998). Models
and the salient features of thriving cohabitation, which rely on
interspecies communication, can guide environmental education
and conservation.
9. Conclusion
The lure of dolphins has created a somewhat unparalleled curiosity
for humans to communicate with other, yet very different, species
from our own. This grail quest to understand what dolphins and
other non-humans are feeling, thinking, and communicating
develops with more inclusive and holistic paradigms (Safina,
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2015). Cognitive ethology, Interspecies Collaborative Research,
Interspecies Cohabitation Research (Oriel and Frohoff, 2015), and
the breakthroughs along the linguistic/ethological border from
scientists who build a common language across species, contribute
to an equalizing research paradigm from which we transcend
excessively anthropocentric models.
Yet the quest for this grail is hampered, as is the archetypal
quest, by our human limitations (rather than those of our fellow
species as was commonly presumed). In part, our own human
colonization, as Kohn (2013) suggests, leads to assumptions that
inhibit possible entry points in communication with those of other
cultures, regardless of species. Therefore, studying communication
in non-human animals through sociological and anthropological
methodologies provides great promise (see Whitehead and Rendell,
2014; Herzing and Johnson, 2015). Yet we still need to be cautious
about the cultural and species-centric reductionism that lingers not
only in science, but also in our personal worldviews that impacts
our cohabitation with other human cultures, let alone all life.
Drawing together these related but diverse topics biocom-
munication, personhood, cohabitation, collaboration, even multi-
species, and multigenerational indigenous understandings across
species they all contain multiple interfaces through which
human and non-human animals connect. We have the opportunity
to redefine not only animal nature in other species but also revisit
and refine our own human–animal nature. Communicative con-
nection points between species can all serve to build on a more
thriving relationship between, and for, the benefit of humans and
all other animals. Yet what we do with the grail of interspecies
communication is up to us.
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... The genome plays the role of intergeneration memory that ensures the preservation of various functions. Other components of the cell (e.g., stable chromatin modifications, gene imprinting, and assembly of the outer membrane) (Frankel, 1989;Grimes and Aufderheide, 1991), and cultural transmission (Dennett, 2017;Frohoff and Oriel, 2016;Lefebvre, 2013), may also contribute to the intergeneration memory; however, their informational role is minor compared to the genome for most organisms. Considering that the increase of functional complexity is the major trend in macroevolution, which seems applicable to all kinds of organisms from bacteria to mammals, it can be used as a generic scale to measure the level of organization. ...
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Humans are animals; humans are machines. The current academic and popular dialogue on extending the personhood boundary to certain non-human animal species and at the same time to machines/robots reflects a dialectic about how “being human” is defined, about how we perceive our species and ourselves in relation to the environment. While both paths have the potential to improve lives, these improvements differ in substance and in consequence. One route has the potential to broaden the anthropocentric focus within the West and honor interdependence with life systems, while the other affords greater currency to a human-purpose-driven worldview–furthering an unchecked Anthropocene. The broadening of legal personhood rights to life systems is underway with a ruling for dolphins in India, for a river in New Zealand and with Laws of the Rights of Mother Earth in Bolivia. Many philosophers, ethicists, and ethologists define personhood within the confines of the dominant anthropocentric paradigm, yet alternate eco-centric paradigms offer an inclusive model that may help dismantle the artificial wall between humans and nature. In this paper, I explore these eco-centric paradigms and the implications of an associated worldview for human perceptions, self-awareness, communication, narrative, and research.
Conference Paper
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In certain coastal areas of the world, humans and non-human coastal systems and species including marine mammals, live within a general trend of thriving and even at times, mutually collaborative cohabitation. In these areas, awareness increases among fishermen, ferry and tour boat operators, leisure boaters, farmers and other human residents as to impacts of their activities on coastal habitats, with some pro-actively taking measures to protect marine life. In some regions, orcas and bottlenose dolphins regularly approach, initiate sociable contact, and engage in complex forms of interspecies interaction. Exploring such examples reveals the roots of a continuum of positive cohabitation, ranging from neutral, passive co-existence, to active sometimes mutual collaboration. Cohabitation research combines ecological, biological, and behavioral data as evidence of coastal system thriving, and interviews with human residents to understand relevant perceptions, attitudes, influences, and experiences. In this initial phase of research, we present preliminary comparisons between a relatively thriving area in the Hebrides, Scotland with the Indian River Lagoon, Florida, an area of marine ecological collapse. Inspired by the late Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom, who developed eight design principles for common pool resources through numerous cross-comparisons, we plan to uncover practical commonalities of positive cohabitation, allowing for variability in how each area thrives. These results can be applied, taught, promoted, and reinforced, as Ostrom’s have, through education, conservation, and government efforts towards protecting coastal communities. Ostrom’s Law states that “a resource arrangement that works in practice can work in theory”; cohabitation research learns from real relationships, which can guide the rich theoretical work on social & ecological systems, re-thinking the human/nature divide. Conservation efforts, justifiably, tend to focus on negative cohabitation, and yet positive cohabitation as a model to study and replicate is a neglected research area. Models of positive cohabitation inform conservation and wellbeing studies for humans and other species, as the ties that bind involve a unique dependence on mutual thriving.
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Abstract: Contemporary knowledge of impressive neu- rophysiology and behavior in cetaceans, combined with increasing opportunities for studying free-ranging ceta- ceans who initiate sociable interaction with humans, are converging to highlight serious ethical considerations and emerging opportunities for a new era of progressive and less-invasive cetacean research. Most research on ceta- cean cognition has taken place in controlled captive settings, e.g., research labs, marine parks. While these environments afford a certain amount of experimental rigor and logistical control they are fraught with limitations in external validity, impose tremendous stress on the part of the captive animals, and place burdens on populations from which they are often captured. Alterna- tively, over the past three decades, some researchers have sought to focus their attention on the presence of free- ranging cetacean individuals and groups who have initiated, or chosen to participate in, sociable interactions with humans in the wild. This new approach, defined as Interspecies Collaborative Research between cetacean and human, involves developing novel ways to address research questions under natural conditions and respect- ing the individual cetacean’s autonomy. It also offers a range of potential direct benefits to the cetaceans studied, as well as allowing for unprecedented cognitive and psychological research on sociable mysticetes. Yet stringent precautions are warranted so as to not increase their vulnerability to human activities or pathogens. When conducted in its best and most responsible form, collaborative research with free-ranging cetaceans can deliver methodological innovation and invaluable new insights while not necessitating the ethical and scientific compromises that characterize research in captivity. Further, it is representative of a new epoch in science in which research is designed so that the participating cetaceans are the direct recipients of the benefits.
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Classic life-history theory predicts that menopause should not occur because there should be no selection for survival after the cessation of reproduction [1]. Yet, human females routinely live 30 years after they have stopped reproducing [2]. Only two other species-killer whales (Orcinus orca) and short-finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus) [3, 4]-have comparable postreproductive lifespans. In theory, menopause can evolve via inclusive fitness benefits [5, 6], but the mechanisms by which postreproductive females help their kin remain enigmatic. One hypothesis is that postreproductive females act as repositories of ecological knowledge and thereby buffer kin against environmental hardships [7, 8]. We provide the first test of this hypothesis using a unique long-term dataset on wild resident killer whales. We show three key results. First, postreproductively aged females lead groups during collective movement in salmon foraging grounds. Second, leadership by postreproductively aged females is especially prominent in difficult years when salmon abundance is low. This finding is critical because salmon abundance drives both mortality and reproductive success in resident killer whales [9, 10]. Third, females are more likely to lead their sons than they are to lead their daughters, supporting predictions of recent models [5] of the evolution of menopause based on kinship dynamics. Our results show that postreproductive females may boost the fitness of kin through the transfer of ecological knowledge. The value gained from the wisdom of elders can help explain why female resident killer whales and humans continue to live long after they have stopped reproducing. Copyright © 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.. All rights reserved.
Behavior enables an animal to interact with and survive in its environment. In cetaceans, as in all other animals, sensory systems exist to serve behavior. Perhaps more than most animals, cetaceans may be said to live in two worlds: their physical universe of air and water, and the social universe of the other dolphins around them. Their sensory systems serve them in both. In the physical universe, sensory systems are used in locomotion, foraging, maintaining physical and physiological equilibrium, and so on. In the social universe, sensory systems are used in communication In fact, it might be said that all social behavior constitutes communication.
Dolphins have fascinated humans for millennia, giving rise to an abundance of stories and myths about them, yet the actual details of their lives in the sea have remained elusive. In this enthralling book, Kathleen M. Dudzinski and Toni Frohoff take us into the dolphins' aquatic world to witness firsthand how they live their lives, communicate, and interact with one another and with other species, including people. Kathleen M. Dudzinski and Toni Frohoff are scientists who have collectively dedicated more than 40 years to studying dolphins beneath the ocean's surface, frequently through a close-up underwater lens. Drawing on their own experiences and on up-to-the-minute research, the authors show that dolphins are decidedly not just members of a group but distinct individuals, able to communicate with one another and with humans. Dudzinski and Frohoff introduce a new way of looking at, and listening to, the vocabulary of dolphins in the sea, and they even provide an introductory "dolphin dictionary," listing complex social signals that dolphins use to share information among themselves and with people. Unveiling an intimate and scientifically accurate portrait of dolphins, this book will appeal to everyone who has wanted a closer glimpse into the hearts and minds of these amazing creatures. © 2008 by Kathleen M. Dudzinski and Toni Frohoff. All rights reserved.