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Investigating the Gulf Coast dolphin murders

Along the Gulf Coast, people are killing (and sometime gruesomely mutilating) dolphins in record numbers. At National Geographic, Rena Silverman goes in-depth on the killings, which investigators now believe are the work of multiple people who are not connected to one another. Xeni wrote about it last year, when that was apparently less clear. Is it less or more disturbing that this isn't likely to be an isolated dolphin serial killer? Maggie

Air-powered 3D-printed robot tentacle

Matthew Borgatti has built an air-powered, 3D-printed robot tentacle that waves in a friendly fashion and lends a helping hand. It is in no way erotic. Nuh-uh, not at all.

So, with a very nice looking tentacle in hand, it was time to start experimenting with robotic air control. I believe I’ve found a system that works in a pretty simple and straightforward way. It still needs some work when it comes to the programming end, but I think the mechanics are well sorted. The idea is to pulse air into the tentacle using a solenoid valve, and have a constant bleed on the line so that flex will entirely be controlled by how long the valve stays on. It’s sort of a low frequency PWM. I’d like to get this working using a visual interface in Processing but, given how little I program, progress has been slow. I’ve got a thread on Adafruit with what I’ve come up with. In the meanwhile, you might like to check a rough video of the trefoil inflating.

Print Your Own Robot: Part 6 (via JWZ)

South Korea may resume whaling, like Japan, "for scientific purposes"

South Korea may soon again allow whale hunting in the waters off its shores for what the government claims are "scientific purposes." The news has sparked criticism from environmental organizations and nations around the Pacific Rim. The country's delegation to the International Whaling Commission said this week that Seoul is reviewing a proposal to hunt minke whales migrating off the Korean Peninsula. Xeni

Navy: sonar and explosion tests may be harming dolphins, whales

In an environmental impact statement covering future plans for U.S. Navy training and testing, an acknowledgement that the use of sonar and explosives "could potentially hurt more dolphins and whales in Hawaii and California waters than previously thought." (AP) Xeni

877 dolphins wash up dead in Peru. Why?

Dolphin carcasses are displayed by conservationists and environmental police officers at San Jose beach, 40kms north of Chiclayo, Peru, on April 6, 2012. The cause of death of over 800 dolphins in the last four months on the shores of Piura and Lambayeque are still being researched, Gabriel Quijandria, Deputy Environment Minister said on April 20, 2012. More about the ongoing investigation into the possible cause of these mass die-offs: CBS News, MSNBC, AFP, DPA, CNN, (REUTERS/Heinze Plenge)

Read the rest

Individual dolphins identify themselves to new dolphins they meet

Here in the BoingBoing newsroom, we are dedicated to keeping you informed on the latest developments in cetacean friendship. You already know that dolphins and whales hang out and, in fact, play together

Now, some more awesome news: Dolphins apparently have a system of identifying themselves to each other similar to the way you and I use names.

Scientists have actually known since the 1960s that this system existed. Basically, each dolphin creates their own "signature" whistle when they're very young. In studies of captive dolphins, they used this whistle mainly when they got separated from the rest of the group. It was like a way of saying, "Hey, I'm over here!" Or, given the environment, perhaps some version of "Marco! Polo!"

But at Not Exactly Rocket Science, Ed Yong writes about a new study of wild dolphins that has really increased our understanding of signature whistles and how dolphins use them.

Quick and Janik recorded the calls of swimming dolphin pods using underwater microphones. From 11 such recordings, they worked out that dolphin groups use their signature whistles in greeting rituals, when two groups meet and join. Only 10 per cent of such unions happen without any signature whistles. And the dolphins use their signatures nine times more often during these interactions than during normal social contact. The signature whistles clearly aren’t contact calls, because dolphins hardly ever use them within their own groups. Mothers and calves, for example, didn’t exchange signature whistles when travelling together. And they’re not confrontational claims over territory, because bottlenose dolphins don’t have territories.

Instead, Janik thinks that dolphins use the whistles to identify themselves, and to negotiate a new encounter. The human equivalent would be saying, “My name is Ed. I come in peace.”

Quick and Janik also found that the dolphins don’t mimic each other’s signatures when they meet up. Justin Gregg from the Dolphin Communication Project says, “In other words, dolphins are not shouting out “Hey there Jerry” to each other, they are saying “it’s me, Tim!” He adds, “We really have no idea when or why they use these whistles. This study has uncovered a brand new function for the signature whistle, which makes it rather exciting. They appear to be identifying themselves to social partners after a prolonged separation.”

Read the rest at Not Exactly Rocket Science

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Image: Dolphins, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from hassanrafeek's photostream