Share this project


Share this project

Dolphin & Whale Language Research Paper Funding project video thumbnail
Replay with sound
Play with

Help spread new research on the communication abilities of dolphins, humpback whales, and birds!

Help spread new research on the communication abilities of dolphins, humpback whales, and birds! Read More
pledged of $2,200 goal
seconds to go

Funding Unsuccessful

This project's funding goal was not reached on April 6, 2014.

About this project

The prospect of animal communication has fascinated us throughout the ages. From Dr. Doolittle to Star Trek IV with whales to SeaQuest DSV with the talking dolphin Darwin, it has always remained a great mystery if other creatures can communicate more than superficial concepts. While any sort of putative animal translation capability is far off, we can analyze their communications and interpret their structure through the guide of information theory.

My name is Reginald Smith and I have just published a scientific paper on this topic in the journal Entropy. Entitled, “Complexity in Animal Communication: Estimating the Size of N-Gram Structures,” (that is a mouth full) it analyzes the calls of bottlenose dolphins, humpback whales, and several bird species to try to find the hidden structure and complexity behind what deceptively appears as a sequence of random noises.

By successfully being accepted to a peer reviewed journal on this topic, I hope to decisively push forward efforts in this area to elucidate a deeper understanding of animal communication. So the research is done, why the Kickstarter campaign? In short, I conducted this research and wrote the paper on my own budget as an amateur scientist. Don’t worry, I had guidance from several professional scientists on this paper and other aspects of computational linguistics and the research was rigorous enough to pass three rounds of three peer reviewers.

Among the conclusions:

1. Certain animal species, dolphins and humpback whales in particular, have a sizable number of 2 or 3 call-length combinations in their communications. The fact that these exist, and are much lower than random chance would suggest, indicate there is likely complex structure in their communications.

2. We can estimate the number of these combinations, for example humpback whales seem to have 18 2-call sequences from a base of 6 calls (random chance would indicate 36) while dolphins have at least 5 structures of both 2 whistles and 3 whistles, off of a base of 27 whistles. A more constrained "vocabulary" size but nonetheless radically different from what random chance predicts (27^2=729 or 27^3=19,683).

I want my paper to be open access, meaning anyone can download it without a pay wall. To do this, I need to raise an open access fee of about $1350 (1200 Swiss Francs to be exact). This sounds expensive, but is in line with other journals including the PLoS series of journals which are the standards of open access at this time. Please see the video and consider contributing! Below are links to the paper, one of the gifts (a book on creativity in scientific research I helped edit), and my personal research page with my other published papers. Thanks for any help!

Finally, please note though I discuss SETI in the video and credits, I am not affiliated with them, directly or indirectly, in any manner.

SETI talks related to animal communication:

Animal communication and SETI

Dolphin communication in particular

My Links:

Paper Link

Book (Scientific Work and Creativity): Amazon link 

Google Books Preview Link

My Research Page

Risks and challenges

Fortunately for contributors, there are no risks subsequent to funding of this project.

1. The research is complete and the paper has been accepted by the journal Entropy
2. This publication is already available open-access so only the fee needs to be paid

If the campaign is successful, the paper fee will be paid and the paper will remain open access in perpetuity.

Learn about accountability on Kickstarter


Have a question? If the info above doesn't help, you can ask the project creator directly.

Ask a question

Support this project

  1. Select this reward

    Pledge $20 or more About $20 USD

    Free book! Receive a free copy of the book "Scientific Work and Creativity: Advice from the Masters" edited by the author with over 20 essays by famous scientists in history on how to make scientific discoveries. Includes Wilhelm Ostwald, Richard Feynman, J.B.S. Haldane, Santiago Ramón y Cajal, Irving Langmuir, Richard Hamming, Hideki Yukawa, Ernst Mach, Henri Poincaré, Hermann von Helmholtz and more!

    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Anywhere in the world
    2 backers
  2. Select this reward

    Pledge $50 or more About $50 USD

    Free book and place in history! You will receive a copy of the book as well as have your name (or alias if you choose) listed in the acknowledgments section of the final paper.

    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Anywhere in the world
    1 backer

Funding period

- (30 days)