In Dolphins, audiences are introduced to Dr. Kathleen Dudzinski, a scientist dedicated to studying dolphin-to-dolphin communication in the wild. Her work often takes her to remote parts of the world where she carries out her methodical research in conditions that are exciting, isolating, and sometimes even dangerous.
Though scientists have been observing dolphins in captivity for nearly a century, research on dolphins in the wild has only taken place for about 20 years. Dudzinski’s research is unique and gives us great insight into the ways that dolphins communicate with each other. Dudzinski's dedication and enthusiasm for her research and the world of dolphins made her a perfect choice as the lead scientist for Dolphins.
While attending graduate school at Texas A&M University, Dudzinski traveled to the Bahamas—where swimming with dolphins is still legal—to study the Atlantic spotted dolphins and work as a naturalist aboard tourist boats. Besides gathering data, her job was to make sure that both dolphins and divers had a safe, enjoyable encounter. The experience also allowed her to share her research with others. She would return to Texas to study and analyze the data she had collected, then go back to the Bahamas to gather more data. Dudzinski spent four, six-month stints observing dolphins in this fashion for her Ph.D. thesis. From approximately 2,000 hours of fieldwork, she gathered just under 20 hours of usable recordings.
Dudzinski overcame a major challenge when she developed and built her first mobile video/acoustic array to record dolphin behavior and communication. Since sound moves faster underwater—4.5 times faster—it seemed as if the dolphin sounds were coming from everywhere at once. With her professor, Dudzinski devised a simple solution: a pair of underwater microphones, called hydrophones, set on a bar at least 4.5 times wider than the distance between her own ears. The delay produced by that distance allows her to localize the sounds. Later, she studies her films and tapes, and identifies which animal is vocalizing and which are reacting to the vocalizations.
Currently, Dudzinski lives on the Japanese island of Miyake where she studies bottlenose dolphins. She was awarded a postdoctoral fellowship by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (National Science Foundation’s Japan counterpart) and named manager of the Tatsuo Tanaka Memorial Biological Station on the island.
While Dudzinski is dedicated to her study of dolphins in the wild, she is also dedicated to exposing others to their world—their playfulness, grace, and intelligence. Some scientists feel that dolphin watching—and swimming with dolphins—can disrupt the animals' feeding patterns, stress them when they should be resting, and even separate mother from calf. (It has been illegal to swim with wild dolphins in the United States since passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1972.) Since worldwide interest in dolphins is expanding exponentially, however, Dudzinski believes the best thing to do is teach people how to swim with the animals responsibly. Of her days aboard the tourist boats in the Bahamas, and now in Japan, she says, "Every passenger is delighted after their first encounter with dolphins. It’s a pleasure to share that experience as well as teach them about dolphins’ lives."
Dudzinski has taken a big leap toward cracking the dolphin communication code as well as their use of a variety of signals. After spending years meticulously conducting her research, Dudzinski has come to an enlightening observation: "Swimming with dolphins has taught me that I don’t need to rely on language to understand the meaning of an exchange between individuals, be they human or other animals. And while my work is a passion for me, life is meant to be enjoyed and shared. I guess you could say that dolphins have taught me to enjoy my playtime."
Getting up close and personal with Kathleen:
Lives with: Umi, the Mighty Sea Beagle, a dog she jokingly says communicates with her via nose smears "Hana Kanji" left on the windshield of her car.
Studies: Japanese and Spanish in order to communicate with people at her study sites.
Hobbies: lifts weights in order to carry her mobile video/acoustic array, which is pretty heavy.
Typical exclamations: "Cripes!," "Yikes!" "For goodness sakes!"
Fondest teenage memory: setting up a traveling petting zoo for inner city kids.
Least favorite prior job: waitress in a sports bar.
What she knows about sports: zip.
Attitude toward folks with unscientific ideas about dolphins: "I might learn something."