"Interspecies Communication Issues"
[Monday, December 7, 2015]
It's a good thing
that the Maldives
is good at languages.
It has been for a long time,
crossing and backcrossing
among Dhivehi, Hindi, and Arabic,
now English and other world languages.
They used to be all human, though.
Things have changed since the arrival
of the nation's first cetacean citizens.
Now they have whales and dolphins,
a giant squid the size of a leviathan,
and a few other species on land.
Some of them are telepathic,
but others aren't. Some of them
can speak aloud, but others can't.
The whales think primarily in sound,
with sonar that goes through solid objects,
a challenge to some cultural concepts
such as boundaries and privacy.
Dolphins also have sonar, but
their vision is more acute, able
to work in water and in air.
Cephalopods are tactile,
touching everything, but they
can see polarized light and
even use it to communicate
through their chromatophores.
To the humans, a boat is
an obvious, visible hazard
moving through the water.
To the cetaceans, though,
the sound of a boat has
a totally different shape
than the hull itself -- it has
a quiet space right in front.
Warning whales and dolphins
away from boats requires adding
a squealer to the bow so they
can tell where it is. This works,
but it is expensive, and not all
of the ships are equipped yet.
Dolphins will swim underwater,
then pop up to look at things
where they are least expected
and it's not always safe to go.
They do best with warnings
that span audiovisual ranges.
For humans, it's easy to put out
a warning sign that says "Danger!" or
"Don't touch!" in several languages.
For cephalopods, everything is
an invitation to touch and explore,
so it's hard to warn them away from
things that are delicate or dangerous.
You have to find a texture they dislike.
Marking the lanes is the hardest,
because everyone has to be
able to parse the markings.
Starting at the harbors,
and working out along
the busiest routes between
the islands, the Maldives is
updating its navigation buoys.
In addition to visual and radio beacons,
they now have sonic ones for cetaceans
and even tactile ones for cephalopods.
It's not perfect, but the rate of collisions
is going down, so that's progress.
In return, the aquatic citizens are
helping identify sunken ships and
other underwater hazards that
nobody else had known about.
Rescuing boaters or swimmers
in distress is becoming more common,
not just an old sailors' tale anymore.
It isn't easy working around
interspecies communication issues,
but the benefits are worth it.
* * *
Interspecies communication is challenging but possible.
Cetacean senses include echolocation.
Cephalopods have keen vision and touch.