Do dolphins benefit from nonlinear mathematics when processing their sonar returns?

T. G. Leighton, G. H. Chua, P. R. White

Abstract

Dolphins have been observed to blow bubble nets when hunting prey. Such bubble nets would confound the best man-made sonar because the strong scattering by the bubbles generates ‘clutter’ in the sonar image, which cannot be distinguished from the true target. The engineering specification of dolphin sonar is not superior to the best man-made sonar. A logical deduction from this is that, in blowing bubble nets, either dolphins are ‘blinding’ their echolocation sense when hunting or they have a facility absent in man-made sonar. Here we use nonlinear mathematical functions to process the echoes of dolphin-like pulses from targets immersed in bubble clouds. Dolphins emit sequences of clicks, and, within such a sequence, the amplitude of the clicks varies. Here such variation in amplitude between clicks is exploited to enhance sonar performance. While standard sonar processing is not able to distinguish the targets from the bubble clutter, this nonlinear processing can. Although this does not conclusively prove that dolphins do use such nonlinear processing, it demonstrates that humans can detect and classify targets in bubbly water using dolphin-like sonar pulses, raising intriguing possibilities for dolphin sonar when they make bubble nets.

  • Received April 21, 2012.
  • Accepted June 20, 2012.
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