Aug 21, 2014

What Do Dolphins Talk About?

Denise Herzing has been studying the same pod of wild dolphins for 30 years. Every summer, she and the dolphins are reunited. But this summer, things are a little different—this summer, with help from Thad Starner (one of the inventors of Google Glass), she's testing a new device that could change the conversation for good. 

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JAD: Hey, I'm Jad Abumrad.

ROBERT: I'm Robert Krulwich.

JAD: This is Radiolab. And today…

ROBERT: Hello.

JAD: Yes. 

ROBERT: Or as a dolphin might say...

JAD: How would a dolphin say it?

ROBERT: I don't know. 

[MUSIC IN]

JAD: Well, then—you know what? That is exactly kind of the question of this next segment. I mean, the dream that a human being and talk to a dolphin, or any animal really, get in their heads, cross that gap. 

ROBERT: This is a dream that humans have had for since like forever. 

JAD: Yeah. St. Francis of Assisi goes way back. Now, and so far as dolphins are concerned, after the John Lilly situation, researchers did get a little tepid.

ROBERT: Yeah, but they didn't stay tepid, as you say, for long. 

[MUSIC OUT]

  1. DENISE HERZING: No. 

[MUSIC IN]

JAD: Because along came this woman.

  1. DENISE HERZING: Dr. Denise Herzing, Director of the Wild Dolphin Project.

JAD: Who basically decided to take John Lilly's experiment and flip it. Rather than have the dolphin speak English, let's have the human speak dolphin. Or at the very least, let's create a shared language where humans and dolphins can speak.

LYNN: Or at least whistle.

  1. DENISE HERZING: Well, you know, it's about finding, finding a place you can meet.

JAD: Back to producer Lynn levy.

LYNN: Okay, so for Denise this dream of finding that meeting spot it goes back to when she was a little girl.

  1. DENISE HERZING: Well, when I was 12 years old, I used to page through the Encyclopedia Britannica in the days when we had books.

LYNN: Mm-hmm.

  1. DENISE HERZING: And I would always stop at the whale and dolphin page, look at the dolphins and go, "Wow, I wonder what their brains are like. Because they've evolved in the water..."

LYNN: You were thinking that when you were 12?

  1. DENISE HERZING: I was. I was [laughter]— I was a total nerd. In fact, I entered this contest in Minnesota like, what would you do for the world if you could do something? And I actually wrote, "I would build a human animal translator so we could figure out what was going on in the minds of animals." So yeah, I don't know. I got the bug early and here I am.

ROBERT: You have—were you having a fantasy about what you might learn? With a...

  1. DENISE HERZING: A fantasy? No, I was just curious. So, I don't know, you look in their eyes there's definitely something behind there. You just want to know what it is. 

LYNN: Fast forward many years. Denise got a boat.

  1. DENISE HERZING: And I went out to the Bahamas.

LYNN: She was like, if I'm gonna study these dolphins, I'm going to do it in the wild. 

  1. DENISE HERZING: That's where they live. 

LYNN: So, she tracked down a part of wild dolphins. 

  1. DENISE HERZING: Yep, yep. 

LYNN: And she just tried to blend in.

  1. DENISE HERZING: I actually anchored the boat in one spot most of the time. 

LYNN: This spot in the Bermuda Triangle.

  1. DENISE HERZING: The middle of, I call it, "the dolphin highway."

LYNN: Where dolphins come and go.

  1. DENISE HERZING: They could come by if they wanted to. And if they didn't, they didn't.

[MUSIC OUT]

LYNN: When they would come by, she and her team would just slip into the water.

  1. DENISE HERZING: And behave ourselves.

LYNN: Just sort of watch. Paying attention to who was who, which dolphin had a crooked fin, which one didn't.

  1. DENISE HERZING: And when they'd leave, we'd get out and that's really how we operated for the first five years, and it worked fine.

JAD: Five years? she spent five years just watching? Not doing anything else. 

  1. DENISE HERZING: Yes

ROBERT: Doesn't this take an enormous amount of patience?

  1. DENISE HERZING: Well sure, I mean, but after about five years they started realizing, well these guys aren't going to grab us and poke us and prod us. So, they started just going about their own business.

LYNN: Like feeding, mating...

  1. DENISE HERZING: Nursing...

LYNN: And talking. [dolphin sound] Or at least making a lot of noises. [dolphin sound] Which she and her team would record. [dolphin sound]

JAD: Wow! That's all dolphins squeaking?

LYNN: Well dolphins make—they make all these—Yeah, like that. That's like a—there's like a clicking, kind of queaking sound that they make. [dolphin sound] 

ROBERT: Oh.

JAD: Sounds like a zipper.

ROBERT: Zipper. Yeah,

LYNN: Yeah, they make like whistles that are more kind of distinct, and then they make sounds that are like longer and weirder. And...

JAD: And do you have any sense that each of these sounds means something different?

LYNN: Well, that's exactly what we don't know.

  1. DENISE HERZING: I could tell you what kinds of sounds are correlated with fighting and with mating or disciplining a calf. What we don't know is: are there detailed kind of words in there? Is there more kind of encoded information?

LYNN: But what they do know is that each dolphin seems to have its own kind of signature whistle.

  1. DENISE HERZING: Which is basically a name. Every individual has its own name.

MARGARET LOVETT: Peter had a name. Nobody's ever asked me that. 

LYNN: Here's Margaret again. 

MARGARET LOVETT: And his name was... [imitating dolphin sound]

LYNN: Really?

MARGARET LOVETT: It was almost saying, "Peter here."

  1. DENISE HERZING: Right. So, I can call you "Lynn" by your whistle, and you "Robert" by your whistle.

ROBERT: So, I could be a dolphin going [imitating dolphin], Lynn!...

  1. DENISE HERZING: Exactly.

LYNN: Do they do that?

  1. DENISE HERZING: They do. 

JAD: Huh.

LYNN: Not only that. Apparently, dolphins will use the names of other dolphins who aren't even around. Like they can't see them.

JAD: Like they'll talk about each other behind their backs?

LYNN: Yes? Maybe.

JAD: Wow, that means that they're using representations of things which aren't in front of them, which is sort of like the beginning of language,

LYNN: If that's what they're doing—and we don't know—but if that's what they're doing, then yeah, that's kind of like the edge of language. 

  1. DENISE HERZING: So, you know, it gives us hope that there's probably more information going on there than we know. 

[MUSIC IN]

LYNN: And now finally, she has that device. 

JAD: Which device again?

LYNN: The magical you know, human animal translator device that she was dreaming of and writing about when she was 12.

JAD: Yeah.

[MUSIC OUT] 

LYNN: She has this box that can generate dolphin noises and it can recognize dolphin noises. And if it works, the way that, you know, that she's dreaming, it will work. It could be the first like real two-way back and forth conversation between a human and a wild animal. 

  1. DENISE HERZING: So, we're looking forward to the summer and getting out and getting more data and really exercising the boxes and see what happens. 

[MUSIC IN]

  1. DENISE HERZING: Good, we're ready. 

LYNN: So, I begged my way aboard.

  1. DENISE HERZING: Everybody good? Seasick pills for tummies. 

LYNN: We left on July 8 from Florida and headed for the Bahamas to see this pod that she has been following kind of forever.

  1. DENISE HERZING: Almost 30 years now. 

RADIO: I just saw Stenella. 

LYNN: Boat is called the R/V Stenella. Stenella is the scientific name for this particular type of dolphin, the spotted dolphin. 

  1. DENISE HERZING: Have you seen a spotted dolphin? 

LYNN: I've never seen one in person. [radio chatter]

JAD: What is this boat like?

LYNN: It's like, not a tiny boat, but it's not a big boat. And it was just absolutely full of humans

ROBERT: And who is— who are your humans?

LYNN: Well, there's Denise, obviously.

  1. DENISE HERZING: How's it going?

LYNN: And you got a captain.

KEAR SMITH: My name is Kear Smith. 

LYNN: First Mate….

DANIELLE DABROWSKI: Danielle.

LYNN: Research assistants. 

ALYSON MYERS: Alison Meyers. 

LES NATHAN: Les Nathan.

BETHANY AUGLIERE: Bethany Augliere.

NATHAN SKRZYPCZAK: Nathan Skrzypczak.

LYNN: Volunteers... 

DREW MAYER: Drew Mayer. 

LYNN: There's a acoustics expert.

MATTHIAS HOFFMAN: Matthias Hoffmann.

LYNN: For a long time, I couldn't even figure out where everybody was sleeping because the boat seems so small. I was like there's not room for all these people on this boat.

THAD STARNER: Behind you, there's a hot soldering iron next to the fridge.

LYNN: And I haven't even gotten to this guy.

THAD STARNER: Don't get into it. 

[MUSIC IN]

LYNN: His name is Thad Starner.

LYNN: So, you didn't have like, any dolphin experience before this right? 

THAD STARNER: Oh, hell no. 

LYNN: He's one of the guys who invented Google Glass.

THAD STARNER: I became a computer programmer, so I'd never have to leave air conditioning. Right? And I'm out here in—what is this? —100-degree weather to do what?

LYNN: So, his job on the boat is to— he's in charge of these, these boxes.

THAD STARNER: These— those boxes probably costs 100k at this point. 

  1. DENISE HERZING: We're looking for funding.

THAD STARNER: We're looking for funding.

LYNN: So, he's the tech whiz.

  1. DENISE HERZING: When he came down to visit my lab, I was telling him about the two-way work and the difficulty with underwater stuff and he said, "Oh, I build wearable computers." I said, "Oh, can you build me an underwater wearable computer?"

THAD STARNER: Sure, that shouldn't be hard. [laughter] Four years later.

ROBERT: What does this machine look like that you...?

LYNN: Well, it's like what—a toaster? Like one of those fancy chrome toasters, except you wear it on your chest.

ROBERT: Are they silvery, in fact?

LYNN: They are silvery. They have a bunch of sort of knobs and buttons and speakers on them. 

  1. DENISE HERZING: It's got pre-programmed whistles in it. I can punch a key and it projects Whistle A [whistle] or Whistle B [whistle] or Whistle C.

LYNN: She's programmed in signature whistles of some of the dolphin.

  1. DENISE HERZING: Rat, Palatch. [whistle]. Bijoux. And we made signature whistles for ourselves. 

LYNN: Oh. 

ROBERT: Oh. 

JAD: She can call their names and they can call her names. That's, that's what she's saying?

LYNN: That is the idea, yeah. And if they do call her name, this name that she's made for herself, then the box should be able to recognize it. And can tell her that she's been called by name. It'll actually say into her ear in English, "Denise."

JAD: Huh

  1. DENISE HERZING: This is real time—I call it real time sound recognition—but it's real time whistle recognition underwater. 

JAD: Well, how—how does—if she's made up this name for herself, how is it that they're gonna know that that's her name?

LYNN: Well, the idea is that they're learning. So, she gets into the water over and over and she says, you know have the equivalent of, "Hi, I'm Denise. Hi, I'm Denise" over and over and over. And they learn it you know they develop this...

JAD: Oh, like maybe they'll just start to use it and call her.

  1. DENISE HERZING: Yeah. So, you hope—you hope they call you—[laughs]. I'd be really sad if they didn't call my name but

JAD: But I guess at the very least, she could call their names and see how they react.

LYNN: Right.

ROBERT: Well, see. That would be a eureka moment I think, if you hit the Lolita button and Lolita suddenly turned and looked right at you with a shock...

  1. DENISE HERZING: Exactly.

ROBERT: What the heck?

  1. DENISE HERZING: Wow! That human called me by my signature whistle. Whoa.

ROBERT: That—has that happened yet?

  1. DENISE HERZING: It hasn't happened yet.

[MUSIC IN]

LYNN: And this is something I just did not appreciate. For a while I was on this boat I was like, why is this so hard? Like seems like it should be—these people are so smart, like this should be easy... But they're just like constantly being defeated by the ocean, basically, which I— the ocean is like a worthy foe. But it's like the first year...

THAD STARNER: First year was a complete disaster trying to get the hardware to work.

LYNN: What happened the first year?

THAD STARNER: Everything broke.

LYNN: It was leak city. Basically, the boxes just kept shutting down as soon as they would get in the water.

[MUSIC OUT]

THAD STARNER: That's not good. 

LYNN: It's not good. That's sort of not what you want.

  1. DENISE HERZING: No. 

[MUSIC IN]

LYNN: And last year...

THAD STARNER: We had the boxes working but then we couldn't find the dolphins.

LYNN: The dolphins just disappeared.

[MUSIC OUT]

ROBERT: Where did they go?

  1. DENISE HERZING: Uh, you know they went 100 miles away to another location.

LYNN: They don't know why.

THAD STARNER: I kept up with my side of the deal, Denise.

  1. DENISE HERZING: I know! 

THAD STARNER: Your dolphins stood you up. Geez.

LYNN: And one of the reasons I was on the boat is it felt like everybody was thinking, like, this is it. This is the year. We're gonna go out there, we're gonna find some dolphins and we're gonna make some history. 

LYNN: You ready? 

  1. DENISE HERZING: Ready. Excited. 

[MUSIC IN]

LYNN: Now. Any minute now. 

[MUSIC OUT] 

LYNN: Okay, it turns out it's not that easy to find these dolphins. They're not tagged, you know. They're wild dolphins. So, you just like, you go to where you think they might be...

THAD STARNER: [whistles.] Do you know that song? [whistles]

LYNN: You stare at the water and you wait. 

  1. DENISE HERZING: Yeah, what is that?

THAD STARNER: [whistles]

LYNN: For the first three days pretty much I would...

  1. DENISE HERZING: Oh!

LYNN: We were just driving around.

THAD STARNER: Game of Thrones. 

LYNN: Game of Thrones. 

THAD STARNER: Yeah.

LYNN: In circles. like literally in circles. You know, I feel like I had like a, like a five-hour conversation about Game of Thrones. I've never even seen an episode of Game of Thrones.

LYNN: Any dolphins, any dolphins anywhere? [laughs]

THAD STARNER: Oh, right.

  1. DENISE HERZING: No.

LYNN: There is nothing else to do. 

THAD STARNER: [sings] Come on dolphins. We need you now. Come on dolphins, come on dolphins, come on dolphins, come on dolphins, to kick in...

LYNN: [sings] Dolphins. Dolphins!

LYNN: You see a piece of seaweed, it would look like a dolphin. 

THAD STARNER: [sings] Come on dolphins. 

LYNN: [sings] Dolphins.

LYNN: A wave, it looks like a dolphin. 

LYNN: I have to say that I'm, like, everything looks like a dolphin to me right now.

  1. DENISE HERZING: Yeah. There are days like that. 

THAD STARNER: [whistles]...Yep. Dolphins! 

[MUSIC IN]

LYNN: [cheering] Oh yeah. They are right there. 

  1. DENISE HERZING: Woo! Woo!

LYNN: All of a sudden out on the water we see one fin, two fins, three fins 

LYNN: Four, five, six, seven, eight, nine. Oh, there's so many of them. And they're so cool! 

LYNN: And as we're all standing there watching them, Denise turns to me and she goes...

  1. DENISE HERZING: You want to go in? 

LYNN: I don't know. Do you recommend it? 

LYNN: And I was not prepared for her to say that. And also, I was holding recording equipment everything. And so, I just I ended up just having to go in like in my clothes. [laughs] Like wearing like my shorts and like a bra. And I had like, I had all modesty aside—like thrown aside. They were like, "you can go in." And I was like, "Okay, okay, okay! Go on."

LYNN: Jesus Christ. Here I go. 

[MUSIC OUT]

JAD: We'll be right back.

[MICHELLE: Aloha. This is Michelle from Honolulu. Radiolab is supported in part by the National Science Foundation and by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, enhancing public understanding of science and technology in the modern world. More information about Sloan at www.sloan.org. Mahalo!]

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JAD: Hey, I'm Jad Abumrad. 

ROBERT: I'm Robert Krulwich.

JAD: This is Radiolab. And today...

ROBERT: The show is called Hello.

JAD: Back to Lynn.

LYNN: I mean it's a total sensory shift. The temperature changes, everything goes quiet. It almost feels like this like classic Through the Looking Glass moment. Where you like, you go through the looking glass and like everybody's walking on the ceiling.

ROBERT: Huh. 

[MUSIC IN]

LYNN: And I jumped in and there were two pretty big dolphins coming right at me. Like maybe two feet from my head and staring at me and I was like uhhhhh. I don't know what I know. [laughs]

ROBERT: What did you do?

LYNN: I stayed very still. I pretty much froze.

JAD: Now, how far were they from you?

LYNN: Two feet.

JAD: Oh my god.

LYNN: Yeah, yeah. Dolphins are not small and they were looking at me in a way that was like, "we see you." And also, they're—they make these [dolphin sound] sort of clicking sonar-y sounds which are like...

ROBERT: Do you think they were talking to you? Or just talking about you?

LYNN: Well, no. What I mean, what I think they were doing is, [dolphin sounds] is sonaring me.

ROBERT: Oh, I see.

LYNN: Sort of looking at me with their—with sound. I mean, my head was vibrating.

ROBERT: Whoa.

LYNN: I mean they can see not just body shape, they can see your bones.

[MUSIC OUT]

JAD: Oh.

LYNN: They can see into you. Like you really feel looked at. 

JAD: Wow.

LYNN: It was heart stopping. 

LYNN: That was un****ing believable. 

THAD STARNER: That's what I was waiting for...

LYNN: Oh! it was so cool. 

LYNN: At that point, I was like the trip could end now and go home happy. You know and everybody was like, "Calm down. Those weren't even the right dolphins."

ROBERT: What do you mean?

LYNN: Well, those were bottlenose dolphins. Denise studies spotteds. 

ROBERT: Oh.

[MUSIC IN] 

LYNN: But the next day...

LYNN: Alright onward for spotteds. 

  1. DENISE HERZING: Spotteds or bust.

LYNN: We set out again. Go for a few hours. Bethany does this dolphin dance

BETHANY AUGLIERE: Me being energetic. Spotteds! 

LYNN: And...

THAD STARNER: Oh! Got some.

LYNN: Yeah!

THAD STARNER: You saw him, right?

LYNN: Yeah, right there. 

THAD STARNER: Yeah, there we go. Gotta be spotteds, right? 

LYNN: So then, everybody's like, you know, it's like all hands-on deck situation. Everybody's like strapping on the boxes and strapping on headphones. 

LYNN: What are you doing?

ROBERT: Oh, so there's a lot of scrambling?

LYNN: There's so much scrambling. 

THAD STARNER: Oh, there's one off the bow here.

LYNN: It's like a fire— it's like a fire drill. Now...

  1. DENISE HERZING: I'm putting on my box.

LYNN: Here's the problem.

  1. DENISE HERZING: So, I'm just testing. 

LYNN: Unlike a captive dolphin, wild dolphins they have other things to do, they have you know, fish to catch. You kind of have to entice it into having a conversation otherwise it'll just swim away. But how do you do that when you don't know its language?

[MUSIC OUT] 

LYNN: Well, turns out dolphins are just crazy for scarves.

  1. DENISE HERZING: Scarf high, scarf low. [dolphin sound]

[MUSIC IN] 

LYNN: When you throw them a scarf, they sweep it up with their tail fin and then they let it go and it wafts through the water and another dolphin comes up and sweeps it up with their rostrum. So, the idea is you use the scarf as kind of like a bridge. Denise and another diver will get in the water with a scarf.

  1. DENISE HERZING: We'll get in the water and we'll just start… 

LYNN: Passing it back and forth 

  1. DENISE HERZING: Human to human.

LYNN: Like, "Hey look at this fun thing we're doing."

  1. DENISE HERZING: Let them watch. If they want to get in the game, we let them in the game. So, we'll take the toy over to them, show it to them and press the word for scarf. [whistle] Say, "Hey this is a scarf."

JAD: They just made up a whistle for scarf?

LYNN: Yep, and ideally—and this is the key—the dolphins will pick up the word and use it too to ask for the scarf. If and when they do that, then you've got like a tiny bit of common ground that you can build on. Okay...

[MUSIC OUT]

LYNN: Who you got?

DIVER: We have four spotted dolphins.

THAD STARNER: Yeah!

DIVER: Little candidates, Sisten and Pallet.

LYNN: Yes, you've been waiting for them, right?

DIVER: We have!

LYNN: Just before they jump into nice walks another diver through the game plan.

DIVER: Oh.

  1. DENISE HERZING: So, you're gonna hold it and you're not going to give it to him.

DIVER: Okay.

  1. DENISE HERZING: You're going to entice it with him. You're gonna be like, "Oh this is so nice."

DIVER: Should I like, dive down with it and like waive it or? 

  1. DENISE HERZING: Yeah, first start at the surface and just really get them with you.

LYNN: Moments later...

DIVER: All clear! 

  1. DENISE HERZING: Good. We're ready. 

LYNN: Denise jumps in, followed by three other divers.

  1. DENISE HERZING: We're in the water.

JAD: Were you in the water this time?

LYNN: No, I actually had to watch the whole thing from the deck. And like you can see from the surface three or four adolescent dolphins...

RESEARCH ASSISTANT: See, Denise's right up next to one of them. 

LYNN: You see the back of her head and her little snorkel. 

THAD STARNER: Oh. That's good. She's surrounded right now. 

LYNN: What are they doing? 

THAD STARNER: I'm not sure. 

LYNN: Oh, they're kind of like twisting around each other.

LYNN: I will say this, she is tremendously graceful in the water. She gets in the water and she's like, totally at home. 

ROBERT: So maybe she is a dolphin? 

LYNN: She might secretly be a dolphin.

LYNN: Going like around and around. There, she goes under. Man, what is happening under there? 

LYNN: This is what it sounds like underwater. [dolphin sounds]

JAD: This is the actual sound from the scarf dance? 

LYNN: They record everything that goes on under there.

JAD: Oh.

LYNN: I mean, a lot of that is the dolphins just doing whatever they're doing. But some of it is Denise with the box making this scarf whistle over and over like, scarf! You want the scarf? Yeah? Scarf? 

JAD: Because she's like trying to get the dolphin to say the word, right? 

LYNN: Yeah. Eventually she in the dolphin surface and...

THAD STARNER: He's got the scarf, right there.

LYNN: Oh! Ahh, he's got the scarf! 

LYNN: One of the dolphins is holding the scarf. 

JAD: Hey!

LYNN: It's like this flash of red. 

THAD STARNER: Yep.

LYNN: And then they all go back under. [dolphin sounds]

THAD STARNER: And if Denise comes back up with it, that's real good.

LYNN: Alright. Wait and see. 

LYNN: After about a minute, she surfaces.

THAD STARNER: I think Denise has it now. 

LYNN: She dives one more time. [dolphin sounds] A minute later, dolphin has the scarf. And this went on and on. They were passing it back and forth so fluidly that I thought maybe the dolphin has begun to ask for the scarf by name. Eventually, Denise gets...

  1. DENISE HERZING: Gravity sucks!

LYNN: Hauled back up onto the boat. And we all just sort of gather around like, well, well?

  1. DENISE HERZING: Yeah, the two juveniles picked up the scarf right away. And we played some signature whistles and played some scarf whistles and then some Sargassum came floating by...

LYNN: Piece of seaweed.

  1. DENISE HERZING: Showed them that, played the Sargassum whistle. 

LYNN: You think you got the name in?

  1. DENISE HERZING: Nothing that triggered the system. But you know, we'll see what it looks like. Whew! It's exhausting.

JAD: Wait, she didn't get anything?

LYNN: Well, I mean, nothing the box recognized as a match. You know, nothing that indicated the dolphin like learned a word.

[MUSIC IN]

JAD: Aww. 

ROBERT: Aww.

JAD: So like, they were right there!

[MUSIC OUT] 

LYNN: But there was this one thing that happened. She said that when she addressed one of the dolphins by its name, the dolphin turned around and looked at her and kind of cocked its little dolphin head.

ROBERT: Really?

LYNN: Yes.

[MUSIC IN]

ROBERT: Oh. I so was hoping that you'd say that! [laughter] Wow!

LYNN: Also. there was this moment where Thad and Celeste were looking at the data later. 

THAD STARNER: Who is that?

LYNN: And they saw that right after Denise made her signature whistle...

THAD STARNER: Is that somebody responding with her signature whistle?

LYNN: Another dolphin made its signature whistles.

THAD STARNER: Sweet. 

CELESTE: Whoa. That's pretty cool.

JAD: You mean like, she said, "Hi." And it said "Hi" back?

LYNN: Yeah. 

ROBERT: That's amazing.

LYNN: Well, maybe. I mean, the thing is, dolphins make their signature whistles all the time. 

[MUSIC OUT]

JAD: Oh.

LYNN: So, it could be nothing. Or it could be this... 

[MUSIC IN]

LYNN: Moment. I mean, she's a very rigorous scientist, like she wants that to happen another 30 times.

  1. DENISE HERZING: Before even starting to take it seriously. 

LYNN: But still, it does make you think about the possibilities. 

LYNN: What do you want to ask?

  1. DENISE HERZING: Oh, I don't know. I want to ask everything. So.

LYNN: Like, what? 

  1. DENISE HERZING: I'd like to know what their lives are like when we're not around. I mean, how do you spend your day? You know, do they think about things? I mean, do they think about the future? They think about the past? I mean, we know they have long term memories. You know, do they remember their calves from 10 years ago? 

LYNN: Do they think about death? 

  1. DENISE HERZING: Yeah, they certainly see it. Could be anything you'd ask your friends, right?

JAD: Although part of me wonders like, are they ever going to even get there?

ROBERT: What do you mean? 

JAD: Well, if the goal is to have a conversation and you're gonna do it this way where you're in the wild and you can't touch them and you've got to verify every whistle 35 times, well— are they ever actually going to have a conversation?

ROBERT: Well, because of the like—day one of the language lesson. I could...

JAD: Yeah, I get it. But like, don't you feel like Margaret was—all the problems of that experiment aside, was—she was actually getting somewhere with Peter? Like they were actually having a real exchange?

ROBERT: In the moment, perhaps. But thinking forward, I believe that what you can accomplish by talking, by having a two-way conversation, is just infinitely greater.

JAD: And I totally agree. But if it's taken her 30 something years to get to a maybe hello.

LYNN: Yeah.

JAD: She doesn't even know if she got to hello yet. And if all she has is just a limited amount of time with these dolphins every summer, then 15 more times is gonna take her 15 more years. And I'm just like, oh God, the planet is gonna be 17 degrees warmer by that point. Dolphins are going to have all migrated to some other spot. It just feels like, ugh, come on. Just get in the pool and hold—Let the dolphin hold your foot.

ROBERT: [laughs] She's already got the hello going for her, maybe, so that's like a start. And then, yes, in 50 years, she may have moved past hello to...

JAD: A three-word sentence. 

ROBERT: 

How's your mackerel today?

LYNN: Yeah. I think that to. A three-word sentence, yes. I would put money on a three-word sentence in 50 years. The question is, do we ever get to the point of...

ROBERT: Exploring death? 

LYNN: Yeah.

ROBERT: Yeah, I don't know.

JAD: Lynn, do you have faith?

LYNN: Hmmm. I have faith that if Denise continues with what she's doing, that we'll be able to talk about concrete things. We'll be able to talk about seaweed and we'll be able to talk about coral and we'll be able to have a scintillating conversation about scarves. I do believe that. And that is not nothing. I mean, that is pretty impressive in its own way. [MUSIC IN]

JAD: Big thanks to our to our producer Lynn Levy. I'm Jad Abumrad.

ROBERT: I'm Robert Krulwich.

JAD: Thank you guys for listening.

VOICEMAIL: Start of message. 

KEAR SMITH: Hey guys. My name's Kear Smith. I'm the captain of the research vessel, Stanella.

DANIELLE DABROWSKI: Hi. This is Danielle Dobrowski, the first mate for the Wild Dolphin Project. 

ALYSON MEYERS: Hi Radiolab. This is Alyson Meyers. 

NATHAN SKRZYPCZAK: This is Nathan Skrzypczak.

DREW MAYER: This is Drew Mayer.

MATTHIAS HOFFMANN: Hi Radiolab. It's me. My name's Mattias Hoffmann-Kuhnt.

CELESTE: Hi, this is Celeste. 

MATTHIAS HOFFMAN: And here is the text I was supposed to read. 

KEAR SMITH: Radiolab is produced by Jad Abumrad.

DANIELLE DABROWSKI: Our staff includes Ellen Horne…

ALYSON MEYERS: Soren Wheeler…

DREW MAYOR: Tim Howard…

NATHAN SKRZYPCZAK: Brenna Farrell

DANIELLE DABROWSKI: Molly Webster… 

NATHAN SKRZYPCZAK: Malissa O'Donnell…

ALISON MEYERS: Dylan Keefe…

KEAR SMITH: Jamie York…

DREW MAYER: Lynn Levy….

CELESTE: Andy Mills….

MATTHIAS HOFFMAN: Kelsey Padgett 

DREW MAYER: And Matt Kielty.

DANIELLE DABROWSKI: With help from Arianne Wack…

NATHAN SKRZYPCZAK: Barry Finkel and Lilly Sullivan.

KEAR SMITH: Special thanks to Latif Nasser, David Rothenberg, Philip Hansen Bailey...

CELESTE: Joshua Foer.

ALYSON MEYERS: Kelly Hall and the crew of the Stanella.

KEAR SMITH: Thanks again, Lynn. It was fun. 

DANIELLE DABROWSKI: Have a good one. Bye.

DREW MAYER: Bye.

VOICEMAIL: End of message

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