Boris an Atlantic Bottlenosed dolphin at the Hawaii
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Boris, an Atlantic Bottlenosed dolphin at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology

June 1, 2010
Boris, an Atlantic Bottlenosed dolphin at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, part of the University of Hawaii. [One of several related images from the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology. See Next Image.]

More about this Image Boris is a 13-year-old Atlantic Bottlenosed dolphin who was born in the breeding colony at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology. Most of the studies involving Boris focus on hearing. Dolphins and whales rely on their acoustic senses for locating prey and for communication with their species. Scientists are concerned about how the noise projected into the water from super tankers, oil exploration, navy sonar and oceanographic experiments may effect their acoustic capabilities and think it's important to test the hearing of as many species as possible.

Boris is trained to swim into a hoop and wait for a tone. If he hears the tone he will swim up and press a small ball. If he doesn't hear a tone, he will remain in his hoop until he hears a whistle telling him that he is correct--no tone was presented. The tones played will gradually become quieter and quieter until his 'threshold' is met, thus determining how well he hears.

Boris also participates in a hearing test in which he wears small gold plated, disk-shaped human EEG sensors that are held on the surface of his skin by soft, rubber suction cups. One sensor is placed on the skin on his head over his large brain. The other sensor is placed back by his dorsal fin for a reference. Once Boris is comfortably wearing the sensors, he will swim under water and sit still in a hoop. A researcher will play sounds with patterns and when Boris hears a sound, his brain wave patterns follow the patterns of the sound presented. This test is much quicker than the test involving the ball because all Boris has to do is sit still and listen. This new testing procedure was developed with the help of visiting professor Alexander Supin from the Russian Academy of Sciences. Professor Supin was a guest researcher on a grant that was supported in part by the National Science Foundation (NSF), that brought Russian scientists to the United States temporarily.

Researchers at the institute believe that this new testing procedure will eventually be expanded to allow for the testing of many of the larger species of whales. There are over 85 species of whales and dolphins but researchers at the institute have only measured the hearing of 10.

NSF supports certain aspects of this on-going research with marine animals at the institute. The actual work is conducted by Paul Nachtigall, director of the marine mammal research program, and Jeff Pawloski, Alexander Supin, Marlee Breese and Whitlow Au of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology at the University of Hawaii. Further information about the institute is available on their Web site, http://www.hawaii.edu/HIMB/. (Year of image: 2001)

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