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Dolphins Appear to Do Nonlinear Mathematics

A new study suggests dolphins might use nonlinear mathematics when hunting.

According to Discovery News, Tim Leighton (University of Southampton) was inspired to study the complexity of dolphin hunting after watching an episode of the Discovery Channel’s “Blue Planet” series in which a pod of dolphins created a cloud of tiny bubbles around their prey. A professor of ultrasonics and underwater acoustics, Leighton knew that human-manufactured sonar would not be able to operate in such bubble water and that the dolphins must be using a different, more sophisticated technique.

Studying echolocation pulses of a type that dolphins emit, Leighton and colleagues processed the pulses using nonlinear mathematics instead of the standard way of processing sonar returns. Dolphins send out pulses of sonar in different amplitudes, which the researchers say could answer how they are able to see through the bubble cloud they create while hunting. However, bubbles scattering can trick a dolphin’s sonar into thinking their prey is escaping. To ensure that their target is where they think it is, dolphins would have to subtract the echoes of their sonar from one another.

While the study, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society A, doesn’t conclusively determine that dolphins do use such nonlinear processing, the sonar model could dramatically improve human detection of sea mines and covert circuitry.

Sources: International Science Times, MSNBC, Discovery News

Start Date: 
Monday, July 30, 2012