Dolphins determine their surroundings by listening to echoes. Can they mimic those echoes and communicate it to other dolphins, transmitting an "image"? Does the same go for all echolocators?

  • $\begingroup$ Until a day comes when you can tell one dolphin what image to "transmit", and then ask another what image it "saw", it's pretty hard to imagine an experiment that would let you test that idea. $\endgroup$ Nov 15, 2015 at 19:21
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    $\begingroup$ Humans can get some spatial information from the sounds that they hear. Close your eyes, and listen to some good stereo mixes of music through headphones, and you will get a sense of a "space" around you with different instruments at different locations within that space. Now try listening to the same mix in mono (or, with just one ear bud in place.) All the spatial information is gone! Whatever sounds one dolphin is able to make, it's still just one dolphin---just like one earbud... $\endgroup$ Nov 15, 2015 at 19:24
  • $\begingroup$ Cheers, that makes sense. $\endgroup$ Nov 15, 2015 at 19:27

2 Answers 2


Humans and dolphins can selectively encode which elements of an image they wish to transmit using serialized code.

The transmittance of images in single bursts to multiple recipients doesn't exist except in cameras and projectors, in single beams. It's highly unlikely even that humans use any long distance echogram projection technology.

Echogram transmittance would require 2d graph imaging organs through which to redraw and send the echogram in the direction of the receiver, same as the film/pixels and lense in a projector.

Sound is a lo-fi acquisition method. So bouncing an echogram to and from a source makes it even more lo-fi.

They would have to direct the echogram to a specific respondant using a kind of rotation, and to aim it just right.

The lense that the dolphins use to focus the sound is called a melon, and it's made of wax and fat. I think it's highly unlikely that they have a kind of image grapher and lense system to speak echograms. Nice idea!

  • $\begingroup$ I edited the response so that it makes more sense. $\endgroup$ Nov 26, 2022 at 12:45

I have just asked a similar question in scifi.stackexchange and the reason is, I believe your idea can be found in a book written perhaps 60 years ago. I asked who the author was and/or the name of the book.

I am pretty sure this has been substantiated by researchers -- not recalling how the experiment was set up but I think it essentially involved simulating the dolphin echolocation process and then comparing sounds the dolphin emitted when shown the object or perhaps the researchers produced the sounds for a dolphin and asked the dolphin the choose from among objects.

So while a human might draw an object to explain to another human what they wanted, etc., a dolphin could do the same thing with sound. Perhaps their nouns all resemble the signals that come back during echolocation but I would also bet they abbreviate them since their probably is a lot of excess information in the signal from an actual object.

They would have the natural idea of "instance" and "class" (I speculate). And if cetacean language does consist of abbreviated signals from objects, I do not wonder why they have such large brains.

Here is a link that seems to indicate the answer to your question is "yes": https://www.cymascope.com/cetacean.html

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    – tyersome
    Dec 2, 2020 at 18:21

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