Bugging Dolphins | The Reader's Guide Feature | Chicago Reader

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Bugging Dolphins

Peter Tyvack listens in

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When scientists crack the code of dolphin communication, they're bound to translate questions like "Who's the guy with the microphone?" He might be Peter Tyack, senior scientist at Massachusetts's Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Tyack worked with the dolphins at Brookfield Zoo while developing a device that would tell him which individual in a school was talking. The first version of the device had lights attached to the dolphins' bodies (each a different color) blinking on every time they made a sound; Tyack had to keep an eye on them to know what was going on. "The weird and striking thing is how individual their sounds are," he says. Each dolphin has its own whistle pattern, a short piece of melody that it uses to keep in contact with other individuals. Dolphins form long-term relationships, though they don't "marry," and Tyack thinks the "signature whistle" functions like a name. He's been traveling the world, recording and cataloging dolphins in their natural environments. Now he's back, discussing the meaning of signature whistles in a lecture, "Dolphins Whistling in the Seven Seas," at 7:30 Thursday, November 9, in the zoo's Discovery Center. His work is included in Cetacean Societies: Field Studies of Dolphins and Whales, a collection of new research that he coedited. He'll sign the book at a reception in the Seven Seas Panorama underwater viewing area following the lecture. Admission is $12; $10 for zoo members, students, and educators with ID. The zoo is located at First Avenue and 31st Street in Brookfield; enter at the south gate. Call 708-485-0263 for information.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Schulz copyright Chicago Zoological Society.

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