Environment dolphin

Published on August 3rd, 2012 | by No Artificial

Dolphins May Be Math Geniuses

Dolphins could be far more skilled at math than was ever thought possible before.

While previous research has proven already that dolphins are second only to humans in brainpower, the new study, published in the latest Proceedings of the Royal Society A, suggests that the brainy marine mammals may use complex nonlinear maths when hunting. The complex nonlinear system involves addition, subtraction, multiplication and ratio comparisons and the latest analyses demonstrate dolphins could be far more skilled than was ever thought possible before.

The study’s lead author, Tim Leighton a professor of ultrasonics and underwater acoustics at the University of Southampton, got inspired by an episode of Discovery Channel’s “Blue Planet.” He noticed that dolphins were blowing multiple tiny bubbles around prey as they hunted.

“I immediately got hooked, because I knew that no man-made sonar would be able to operate in such bubble water. These dolphins were either ‘blinding’ their most spectacular sensory apparatus when hunting — which would be odd, though they still have sight to reply on — or they have a sonar that can do what human sonar cannot. Perhaps they have something amazing,” explained Leighton.

Soon, professor Leighton and colleagues Paul White and student Gim Hwa Chua  started their study by modeling the types of echolocation pulses that dolphins emit. The researchers processed them using nonlinear mathematics as an alternative to the standard way of processing sonar returns. The method worked, and could demonstrate how dolphins achieve hunting success with bubbles.

dolphin fishing Dolphins May Be Math GeniusesWATCH VIDEO: Dolphins invent a new way to hunt fish.

“So, provided the dolphin remembers what the ratios of the two pulses were, and can multiply the second echo by that and add the echoes together, it can make the fish ‘visible’ to its sonar,” Leighton explained to Discovery News. “This is detection enhancement.”

If the sonar model is able to be replicated, this could be a huge benefit for humans, especially those who use dolphins, such as the Navy.
The new technique might be able to recognize covert circuitry, such as bugging devices hidden in walls, stones or foliage. It could also dramatically improve detection of sea mines.

In terms of dolphin math skills, earlier studies conducted by the Dolphin Research Cetner in Florida have already shown that dolphins understand various numerical concepts, such as identifying and representing numerical values on an ordinal scale.

Also according to Lori Marino, a senior lecturer in neuroscience and behavioral biology at Emory University, and one of the world’s leading dolphin experts, dolphin brains are four to five times larger for their body size when compared to another animal of similar size and they exhibit human-like skills. These include higher-order thinking, processing of emotional information, mirror self-recognition, cultural learning, comprehension of symbol-based communication systems, and an understanding of abstract concepts.

Discovery News

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