AI Might Have Identified Six New Types Of Dolphin Clicks

Dolphins use clicks to navigate, hunt, and socialize. Sophiebalanay18/Shutterstock

Rachel Baxter 08 Dec 2017, 15:58

The language of dolphins can be tricky to decipher – the marine mammals use a plethora of clicks, whistles, squeaks, grunts, moans, and more to catch their prey, navigate, and socialize with their companions. Identifying these sounds, and which species they belong to, can help conservationists monitor the animals, and now artificial intelligence (AI) has been employed to help.

Tracking dolphins is important as researchers need to know how abundant the animals are, where they go, and which parts of the ocean are most important to them. This tends to be done using planes or boats, which is time-consuming and costly. AI might just solve this problem.

Publishing their findings in PLOS Computational Biology, the team fed an AI algorithm 52 million dolphin clicks. This was accumulated from two years of recordings by sound sensors close to the ocean floor in the Gulf of Mexico. It was programmed to differentiate them based on both speed and pitch. 

The AI managed to identify seven different click types. One of the clicks belongs to the Risso’s dolphin, but in terms of the owners of the other six, they’re still not sure. The types of clicks identified varied depending on location, but each click type was heard in more than one of the five areas sampled.

The researchers think that one might belong to the false killer whale, and another might belong to the short-finned pilot whale, but they aren’t yet sure. Some of the clicks might have never been identified before.

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Despite their round noses, short-finned pilot whales, like killer whales, are in fact dolphins. wildestanimal/Shutterstock

What’s more, it's probably not the case that each click belongs to a different species. For example, a few of the clicks might be produced by one species alone. In that case, “we would expect to see a heck of a lot more categories, really, based on the number of species that ought to be in that area,” co-author Caitlin Frasier told Science News.

Additionally, there may still be clicks that the AI didn’t manage to identify as unique, as the Gulf of Mexico is home to many different species of delphinid. Many of these probably produce similar-sounding clicks.

From the sobering messages in the BBC documentary Blue Planet II to the UN’s recent discussion on our current ocean plastics crisis, the world’s waters are in dire straits, and something must be done.

All around the world, creatures like dolphins are threatened by plastics, fishing nets, oil spills, hunting, and boat noise – all because of us. The team behind the recent study know their AI is not perfect, suggesting several improvements, but if AI can be developed and tuned to better monitor these animals, it might improve our chances of saving them from extinction.

[H/T: Science News]

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