Dolphin uses iPad as way to communicate with humans

Michael Leddy of Orange Crate Art came across this press release about a dolphin named Merlin who uses an iPad.
201006011718Last week, a young bottlenose dolphin named Merlin became the first of his species to join the growing number of enthusiasts using the Apple iPad. Dolphin research scientist, Jack Kassewitz of, introduced the iPad to the dolphin in early steps towards building a language interface.

“The use of the iPad is part of our continuing search to find a suitable touch screen technology which the dolphins can activate with the tip of their rostrums or beaks. After extensive searching and product review, it looks like our choice is between the Panasonic Toughbook and the Apple iPad,” Kassewitz explained. “We think that once the dolphins get the hang of the touch screen, we can let them choose from a wide assortment of symbols to represent objects, actions and even emotions.”

Kassewitz explained the requirements of the technology. “Waterproofing, processor speed, touch-sensitivity, anti-glare screens, and dolphin-friendly programs are essential. As this database of dolphin symbols grows – we’ll need fast technology to help us respond appropriately and quickly to the dolphins.”

The research was being conducted at Dolphin Discovery’s dolphin swim facility in Puerto Aventuras, Mexico, along the picturesque coast now referred to as the Riviera Maya. The dolphin, Merlin, is a juvenile, born at the facility only two years ago. “Merlin is quite curious, like most dolphins, and he showed complete willingness to examine the iPad,” said Kassewitz.

For now, the researchers are getting Merlin used to the touch screen by showing him real objects, such as a ball, cube or plastic duck, then asking the dolphin to touch photos of those same objects on the screen. “This is an easy task for a dolphin, but it is a necessary building block towards our goal of a complete language interface between humans and dolphins,” Kassewitz said.

Dolphin enjoys using the iPad


  1. Be careful with dolphins and computers (cats and raccoons have similar risks.) If he sees your credit card number, you’ll start finding shipments of fish showing up on your doorstep that you didn’t remember ordering…

  2. “So long, and no thanks for the lack of flash… I mean, thanks for all the fish.”

  3. Just to clarify — Jack Kassewitz sent me the press release after seeing my post about the Onion piece on dolphins and tablet devices.

  4. we’ll need fast technology to help us respond appropriately and quickly to the dolphins.

    I for one welcome our new dolphin overlords.

  5. Dolphins are too good for Blackberry, I take it? You just know there’s a porpoise behind this product placement.

  6. Surely that should be “Human uses i-pad in attempt to communicate with dolphins”. It’s not their fault we’re still using physical devices…

  7. You would think that the radically differing environmental conditions under which the dolphin evolved, compared to we ancient forest dwellers, would result in some differing aspects or styles to their reasoning or reckoning, as distinct from ours.
    I mean, it stands to reason.( No pun intended.)

  8. “Waterproofing, processor speed, touch-sensitivity, ANTI-GLARE SCREENS, and dolphin-friendly programs are essential.”

    Maybe Apple will listen to the dolphins and quit limiting options for those of us who find glossy screens so annoying to use.

  9. The facility’s orcas however, have decided to wait for the rumored Android-based tablet. “No Flash, no Farmville, no way,” said a spokesfish before being eaten.

  10. But where do dolphins, uhm stand, on the open source debate? Merlin was born into captivity, so he likely sees no problem with the walled garden.

  11. I suppose another requirement would be “bright enough to see in daylight.”

  12. This reminded me of that terrible Keanu Reeves movie Johnny Mnemonic with the god-like dolphin that helped save the world.

  13. I fully believe that dolphins and whales are as intelligent as humans, but that we are unable to accurately determine that because of the communication barrier between our two species. To me it seems silly to assume that because we are at the top of the primate tree that we are the dominant intelligence on planet Earth. It seems far more likely that we co-hold that title with other species who may not have needed the same markers for intelligence as we did to survive (tool making, for example.)

    So what happens when, using an interface like this, dolphins start to ask existential questions or demanding more space or release? I know it sounds silly, but if they are as intelligent as I believe then it’s possible.

    What do we do then?

    1. Why do you believe that? Is it because you really really want to? Because it would be totally cool?

      Just because a creature shows compassion and shares a lot of mammalian behavior patterns with us, doesn’t mean they’re as intelligent as humans. Not unless you drastically redefine the word “intelligent”.

      Keep in mind, humanity has been to the moon. And we rarely get caught in nets. Don’t try to contradict me by pointing out that humans have wars and “know hate”. I’m not saying humans are infallible. But in terms of intelligence? It’s really stupid to think that because they’re super-friendly, compassionate, and have family lives, that they must also be as smart as us.

      1. Nah, but the ability to translate directions from sign language into an underwater click track and relay that information to another dolphin points to a great deal of intelligence.

      2. Besides, dolphins pretty clearly know hate, too. They’re actually really mean, just not generally to humans.

      3. Actually, it would seem that your definition of “intelligent” is fairly anthropocentric. I’m not saying that dolphins have human-like intelligence. I’m stating that setting human intelligence as some sort of standard to judge the worth of a species by is not a very intelligent thing to do. Given how little we understand how our own brain works, much less the brains of other species, it would certainly make sense to approach this topic with a bit of humility.

        We talk about voyaging through space and meeting other intelligent life forms, but we’re not even close to fully understanding the life forms in our own backyard. If we landed on an extrasolar planet, odds are we would slaughter any so-called “intelligent” alien life form without even knowing what we were doing. Hey, that smelly alien fungus you’ve been clearing with fungicide? Yeah, that’s the greeting party. They have been confused why you haven’t been responding to their spores.

        On that note, if recent displays of dolphin and primate intelligence haven’t impressed you as noteworthy, you may have some sort of bias you need to work through.

        1. See, this is what’s so irritating about you self-hating humans. You assume that I think ONLY humans are intelligent. I don’t! Obviously dolphins and the hairier primates have well-developed brains.

          I’m just saying, come up with any intelligence test that’s not just a measure of ability to hold your breath or guzzle fish, and you’ll find that humans can beat dolphins.

          They’re AWESOME. We’re BETTER AT BEING SMART. They’re BETTER AT SWIMMING. We are capable of spending long periods of time in any environment we want- hot, cold, wet, airless, deep underground…. Dolphins actually beach themselves.

          You need to come to terms with the fact that different species excel at different things. You can redefine intelligence to mean whatever you want, but if you’re speaking ENGLISH, as most people understand the word, humans are smarter than dolphins.

          1. No no…we’re just better at speaking human.
            Your argument leads me to think that we (that is, all species) should try to work together to advance a mutually advantageous agenda: with each doing something that the other species are not so good at…oh wait…that’s a healthy eco-system that I’m describing…well, carry on, then.

          2. Wow. That’s quite an emotional reaction to a pretty simple idea – that our understanding of thought and intellect is self-limiting. It’s not hating on humans. It is pointing out the obvious possibility – that there could be intelligence so different from our own as to be incomprehensible to us. Rather like the concept of dimensions beyond the 3rd. You can create a visual representation of a hypercube, but it is still limited by our ability to convey the information in the dimensions we can understand. In a similar fashion, we tend to dismiss what is different as substandard. That is a mistake, in my opinion.

            Also, you seem to be confusing intelligence with knowledge, scientific advancement, and wisdom or understanding. There is no evidence to suggest that human intelligence has changed much over the past hundreds of thousands of years. We have improved education and scientific knowledge has advanced tremendously. But intelligence? If you met a man from, say, 10,000 years ago, you might assume you are more intelligent than he is based on his primitive beliefs and fears, his ability to deal with the world around him, and so on. He might score quite poorly on our IQ tests. But that wouldn’t prove that you are more intelligent than he. And that is another human. How vast a difference must there be between different species?

            Don’t mistake this as any sort of value judgment on the intelligence of any species. I’m not challenging your intelligence or that of humanity, or trying to claim that dolphins are equal or superior. I’m saying that we tend to judge such things and attach value to them based on our limited understanding. That’s it. Sorry if that opinion upsets you. Again, your emotional response would seem to indicate some sort of personal bias that is interfering with your understanding of my point. If you can only reduce what I’m saying to “dolphins rule! people suck!” then you fail to understand at all. Dolphins may be complete idiotic dicks, for all I know.

    2. Dolphins have highly sophisticated brains but “intelligence” is a tricky one since there is no single objective measure of intelligence even among humans. Dolphin minds may be so alien to our own that we never really understand each other, language computer or no.

    3. Interesting, JS. The answer to your question, morally and legally speaking, must be that we respect the civil rights of any sentient “person,” whether or not they happen to be a member of our particular taxonomic branch.

      Now, does that mean that other species must be *as* intelligent as us before we respect their rights? Is it a sliding scale? I’ll think about it while I cook my spaghetti bolognese…

    4. What do we do? First we apologize to them for our previous ill treatment and lack of respect, and then we give them whatever they want.
      All in all I think we will make much better pets than we have masters anyway.

  14. Sigh, now Cory is going to have to write an article in dolphin-speak pointing out the negative connations of using an iPad.

    Also: to the best of our knowledge, humans are the most intelligent, possibly only intelligent, life-form in the universe. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for us to claim dominance on Earth.

    1. starting your statement with ‘to the best of our knowledge’ completely undermines the entire thing.

      what if ‘the best of our knowledge’ doesn’t mean shit in the grand scheme of things?

    2. Carl Sagan once said something like, “The universe is a big place–it’s arrogant to think we’re the only intelligent species in it.”

  15. “dolphin-friendly programs are essential”

    i have trouble enough creating stuff for humans.
    now dolphins too?
    what’s next?

  16. Sounds like the kinda James Randy should debunk. A bit like that coma guy a few months ago being led to answers anyway I love Dolphins and I like apple hardware so this story hits two of my boxes if only there had been breasts.

  17. just because your boss lets you grow a beard of neglect doesn’t mean you ever should.

  18. I have long dreamed of developing a sophisticated interspecies linguistics system then linking it to a series of mid-ocean audial interface terminals for the singular purpose of allowing adolescent dolphins to phone smoke shops in the UK and ask for Prince Albert in a can.

    Software for cephalopods sounds like a great idea too. I’m particularly fond of cuttlefish because they combine the best qualities of a cat and a zeppelin.

  19. Bender: Who wants dolphin?
    Leela: Dolphin? But dolphins are intelligent.
    Bender: Not this one. He blew all his money on instant lottery tickets.

  20. I can’t believe I’m the first to say this, but: I’m glad someone finally found a real use for an ipad..

    1. Maybe they weren’t so “quite adequate” as you think? If they had been adequate, the researchers would have been using them.

  21. Is the dolphin really making selections, or is the trainer moving the iPad around so that the beasty selects the ‘correct’ shortcut? Ouija board phenomenon. Let’s bolt that sucker down and see what happens. Let’s get James Randy out here to supervise.

  22. I am surprised it took this long to do! I recently saw a crow on Animal Planet that was using a computer screen. Why so long? Is water so difficult to work around? Of course dolphins rate high but to call them “sentient” (intelligence on the scale of human) is presumptuous. The definitions are difficult but not building or even destroying could be a clue. Even chimps have wars, so it is not only for the “top”. Just start communicating before you put on labels, we are babies in this area. I once read that saying the sign language in chimps was not really language. So what about deaf humans? We are so jealous of our status we rush to make pronouncements. It is what it is, just get on with it!

  23. We are capable of spending long periods of time in any environment we want- hot, cold, wet, airless, deep underground…. Dolphins actually beach themselves.

    If this is supposed to be some kind of indication of the intelligence of dolphins as a whole and not the beached ones specifically, you might want to read up at and get back to us about humans.

    if you’re speaking ENGLISH, as most people understand the word, humans are smarter than dolphins.

    On the other hand, if you’re speaking DOLPHIN, as most Odontoceti understand the word…

  24. Its a great feeling thet this experiment took place in mexico….with the most amazing animal (for me) that gets so close to us in many different ways…i would like to learn more about this. What did the dolphin answer from? can he be able to detect deiferences in colors…ar animation??

    Thanks! great to hear from this kind of technological advances thata are share with this great amazing specie.


  25. This has exciting implications.

    The best touchscreen implementation for dolphins probably be some version of Jefferson Han’s FTIR technology ( ), using the surface of the acrylic dolphin tank. They’d get a much larger surface to work with, and still retain multi-touch capabilities.

  26. How much does it have to suck to request a fish and hit the wrong button and have someone ride on your back instead? Bet he wishes he had fingers…poor dolphin.

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