The woman who lived (and had sex) with a dolphin

In 1964, Margaret Howe Lovatt, working with psychedelic dolphin researcher John Lilly, began to live with one of the animals full-time as part of a NASA-funded study about interspecies communication; a new documentary about Lovatt, titled "The Girl Who Talked to Dolphins," airs on BBC4 later this month. Above, a clip of Lovatt talking about how she developed a deep intimate relationship with Peter the dolphin that veered into the sexual. At the time, a sexploitative article in Hustler, the high weirdness of the experiments itself that included giving LSD to dolphins, and myriad other unpleasant issues, brought the project to a very sad end.

"The dolphin who loved me: the Nasa-funded project that went wrong" (The Observer)

Dolphins imitate with echolocation

Mary Bates, for Wired:
In 2010, researchers at the Dolphin Research Center (DRC) in Grassy Key, Florida, showed dolphins can imitate behaviors without using their eyesight. ... Now, a follow-up study shows not only how Tanner accomplished this task using sound, but also that he used a deliberate, problem-solving approach to imitation. The research was published in the journal Animal Cognition.

Dolphins love themselves (in that way)

Check out Scicurious' report on a recent research paper entitled "Spontaneous Ejaculation in a Wild Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops aduncus)" — in which we learn that dolphins can masturbate (yes, even without hands), but, frankly, they don't always need to. That's because male dolphins can have what amount to wet dreams ... sudden, unexpected orgasms that happen in their sleep. And, um, there's video. If you're into that kind of thing.

Dolphins have names

Rebecca Morelle: "Research has revealed that the marine mammals use a unique whistle to identify each other. A team from the University of St Andrews in Scotland found that when the animals hear their own call played back to them, they respond." [PNAS and BBC]

Dolphins on acid (and other bad ideas)

How dosing dolphins with LSD (and giving dolphins hand jobs) helped shape our modern pop culture beliefs about dolphins as sources of healing — beliefs that, according to neuroscientist Lori Marino, can endanger both dolphins and the humans who come to them for help.

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?

Soviet killer dolphins on the loose in the Black Sea

Using old Soviet Union techniques, Ukrainian scientists trained dolphins to attack and kill swimmers using knives and guns strapped to the heads of said dolphins. Like you do. Today, the dolphins escaped. No word on whether they are armed. (Is it just me, or does this sound like the set-up to a cheapo Eastern European "B" horror movie? I'm imagining screaming spring breakers fleeing evil cetaceans. Day of the Dolphin?)

Who is shooting and mutilating dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico, and why?

Photo: IMMS

Someone is killing and mutilating dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico, and no one can figure out who is doing this, or why. This Friday, a team from the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies (IMMS) in Gulfport, Mississippi encountered a dolphin with its lower jaw cut off; last weekend, they found a dead dolphin with a 9mm bullet wound that "went through the abdomen, into the kidneys and killed it," according to IMMS director Moby Solangi. Snip from the Sun-Herald's coverage:
In Louisiana, a dolphin was found with its tail cut off. "Animals don't eat each other's tails off," Solangi said. "We think there's someone or some group on a rampage," he said. "They not only kill them but also mutilate them."

IMMS investigated the first dolphin shooting earlier this year and incidents have increased in the past few months. In Alabama, someone stabbed and killed a dolphin with a screwdriver, according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration press release. In September, a dolphin was found on Elmer's Island, La., with a bullet in its lung. Others have been mutilated with knife-like lesions.

Read more at the Sun-Herald, more at Alabama news site AL.com, and more in the Associated Press. All of this may or may not be related to screwdriver attacks on dolphins this June. Who the hell does this?

Orbital Habitat concept had supercomputer, dolphins

"Michel's ultimate plan was a dolphin habitat IN SPACE. The dream was called Bluestar and it is about the most awesomely crazy idea I've ever heard. A ring of laboratories and places to think would surround a sphere of water that contained a population of dolphins who programmed a supercomputer with "their sophisticated sonar systems." — Alexis Madrigal

Dolphins befriend an underwater camera

So a bunch of guys go fishing, and they take a long an underwater camera, encased in a mobile, waterproof housing. Basically, their camera can move around underwater, like a little RC car.

Then this happens ...

I have a sneaky suspicion that this video might be an advertisement for camera equipment. But whatever. It's beautiful. You win this time, viral marketers.

Watch the movie on Vimeo

Via Robert Krulwich and Ed Yong.

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)

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

An animal rights pop quiz

"Over the weekend, I borrowed a friend’s time machine and cold-bloodedly killed a Neandertal, a Homo erectus, an Australopithecus, a dolphin, a chimp, eight sentient robots, the first extraterrestrial visitor to Earth, and my neighbor with the unreasonably loud sound system. Question: in the eyes of the law, how many murders did I just commit?" — John Rennie on the ongoing debate about intelligence, species, and the rights of non-human persons. Read his great story at Smart Planet. (Via Philip Yam) NOW WITH WORKING LINK!

The case for dolphin rights

Recently, I posted a series of videos where science writers talked about some of the fascinating things they learned at the 2012 American Association for the Advancement of Science conference. In one of those clips, Eric Michael Johnson talked a bit about a panel session on whether or not certain cetaceans—primarily whales and dolphins—deserve to have legal rights under the law, the same as people have.

This is an issue that just begs controversy. But in a recent blog post following up on that panel and the meaning behind it, Johnson explains that it's not quite as crazy an idea as it might at first sound.

It was just this understanding of rights as obligations that governments must obey that formed the basis for a declaration of rights for cetaceans (whales and dolphins) at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science held in Vancouver, Canada last month. Such a declaration is a minefield ripe for misunderstanding, as the BBC quickly demonstrated with their headline, “Dolphins deserve same rights as humans, say scientists.” However, according to Thomas I. White, Conrad N. Hilton Chair of Business Ethics at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, the idea of granting personhood rights to nonhumans would not make them equal to humans under law. They would not vote, sit on a jury, or attend public school. However, by legally making whales and dolphins “nonhuman persons,” with individual rights under law, it would obligate governments to protect cetaceans from slaughter or abuse.

“The evidence for cognitive and affective sophistication—currently most strongly documented in dolphins—supports the claim that these cetaceans are ‘non-human persons,’” said White. As a result, cetaceans should be seen as “beyond use” by humans and have “moral standing” as individuals. “It is, therefore, ethically indefensible to kill, injure or keep these beings captive for human purposes,” he said.

Johnson also makes an interesting point—there's a legal basis for this kind of thing. After all, if corporations can be people, my friends, why not dolphins?

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

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