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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?

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  • $\begingroup$ 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. $\endgroup$ – Solomon Slow Nov 15 '15 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... $\endgroup$ – Solomon Slow Nov 15 '15 at 19:24
  • $\begingroup$ Cheers, that makes sense. $\endgroup$ – Erlja Jkdf. Nov 15 '15 at 19:27
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As I understand your question, dolphins (and other echolators) can more or less map out their "surroundings" (which might include nearby ice floes, for example). It sounds like you're asking if they can then transmit that knowledge to other members of their species.

I don't know the answer, and I suspect no one does. However, it's hard to imagine why one dolphin would need to tell another dolphin about its surroundings when the second dolphin ought to be able to map its surroundings all by itself.

Cetaceans do communicate with each other, presumably alerting each other to danger (e.g. predators) and the presence of prey.

Incidentally, I worked on an acoustic study of bowhead whales in the Arctic Ocean years ago. We recorded bowheads and Arctic seals, which make some unbelievable sounds. We operated under the presumption that they were primarily "sounding out" their environment - searching for open areas in the ice where they could breathe, for example. It's possible that one whale might say "Hey, I found a breathing hole!" without mimicking the echoes that alerted it to that hole.

Sorry, that's not really a direct answer, but it might help put things in perspective.

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  • $\begingroup$ +1 for a reasonable answer, but a human could draw a map of a dangerous area to warn later travellers. Assuming dolphins can do this, it would be a good reason for them to communicate the landscape to each other. $\endgroup$ – March Ho Nov 16 '15 at 14:27
  • $\begingroup$ People create maps to aid people who they are independent of. For example, a person who explores Tibet might create a map to help people who travel there in the future. A pod of dolphins will presumably use echolocation to map out their surroundings simultaneously, just as a group of people will simultaneously see a spotlight. It's possible that one dolphin might want to describe the surroundings, but it doesn't sound logical to me. $\endgroup$ – David Blomstrom Nov 16 '15 at 17:44
  • $\begingroup$ Please could you add some supporting scientific material that reinforces your answer and allows further reading. $\endgroup$ – rg255 Mar 8 '16 at 7:37

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