ANU researchers serenade dolphins to try to figure out if music is the key to communication
Researchers from the Australian National University (ANU) are playing high-frequency instruments for dolphins on the NSW north coast to see if humans can communicate with marine mammals through music.
- Researchers say the dolphins started appearing minutes after the musicians started playing
- The study involved an opera singer, flutes, piccolos and wooden Indian recorders
- The research team plans to expand their study with underwater speakers and microphones to record and decipher the musical tastes of dolphins
The study, which took place in Port Stephens just north or Newcastle, saw Indian flutes, piccolos and recorders being played for sea creatures, with great success.
the musical performance was performed aboard a Imagine the Eco Cruises boat in December, where the crew reported seeing a much higher volume of dolphin pods than normal.
Flutist Sally Walker from the ANU School of Music was one of the team members who played for the Dolphins and said that “a few minutes” after playing the flute a band started to swim alongside the boat.
“A dolphin slid right under me at the same speed as the boat, and the rest of the gondola danced around it,” she said.
“Staff on the Imagine boat said we saw an unusually high number of dolphins both in the harbor and offshore.”
An opera singer also serenaded dolphins with a coloratura — an elaborate operatic vocal melody with decorative embellishments — which researchers say was as successful as high-frequency instruments.
Dr Olivia De Bergerac, a neuroscientist and founder of The Dolphin Society, who has studied the interaction between dolphins and humans for more than 25 years, said very little is known about the reaction and responses of marine mammals to live music.
“Dolphins are very intelligent creatures and can sense our thoughts, our feelings, our state of being and send us sounds to heal us,” she said.
Professor Kim Cunio, director of the ANU School of Music, said that due to the extremely high frequency of dolphin calls, having instruments capable of emitting sounds in this range was an essential part of the study.
“Having the flute, the piccolo and a coloratura voice was really important because they are some of the highest instruments we have and are way above our speech,” he said.
Next step to determine the musical tastes of dolphins
Researchers involved in the pilot study said they plan to expand, with an underwater speaker to play the music and an underwater microphone – or hydrophone – to record the dolphins’ responses to the music.
This use of the underwater speaker should reveal whether dolphins react differently to music and whether musicians play above or below water.
“The effect of listening to water teeming with life through a hydrophone is quite exciting,” Prof Cunio said.
“That means we don’t easily hear the nuance in their appeals.”
Ms Walker said she was interested to see what types of music the dolphins preferred as the study continued, and whether this might affect the animal’s responses to researchers and musicians on the ship. .
“Do they react differently to structured music like a Bach sonata? Or maybe more soothing sounds similar to what you would hear on soundtracks designed for meditation,” she said.