Do Dolphins Need Apps?
Scientists have launched an experiment that uses touch screens and apps in order to investigate dolphin intelligence. While this might sound like a boon to the realm of animal cognition, it raises some important questions about the ways that this type of research is done.
The experiment involves an eight-foot underwater touch screen that dolphins can interact with, giving them control over a number of activities within “dolphin-friendly apps.” Researchers want to investigate dolphins' vocal learning, symbolic communication and their ability to choose as they request videos, images and interactions that are available on the app.
Lead researcher Diana Reiss hopes that this technology will give dolphins “increased choice and control,” and that it will “enrich our science by opening a window into the dolphin mind.” However, the conditions of captivity are so stressful, and so different than those of the wild, that their results will undoubtedly be affected.
The question these researchers ought to be asking is, "In whose mind are you opening this window, and is this mind truly representative of dolphins who are allowed to live their lives freely the ocean and who are allowed to determine the course of their own lives?"
In the case of the current study, the individuals being used reside at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, were born into captivity, and have never even seen the open water. They may be quite different from their wild counterparts, having been denied the opportunities to develop the social and cultural qualities that are naturally a part of dolphin life in the wild. Since dolphin cognition is believed to have developed largely in order to handle the vast complexities that comprise dolphin social life, this is a significant oversight indeed.
The evidence is already clear - dolphins and whales need real and meaningful protections that prohibit the use and exploitation of these highly intelligent beings. Please take action for dolphins and whales.