Date of Award

Summer 8-2018

Degree Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Chair

Donald Sacco

Committee Chair Department


Committee Member 2

Mark Xitco

Committee Member 3

Mark Huff

Committee Member 3 Department



The ability for humans to communicate with another species has been an aspiration and well documented. One example is through training animals to make associations between a designated cue and conditioned response (Pryor, 1986). Two-way communication, however, in which both species can express wants/needs has been predominantly pursued with apes and dolphins. Studies conducted by Louis Herman demonstrated the capabilities of dolphins to comprehend complex semantic and syntactic commands in an artificial language system (Herman, Richards, & Wolz, 1984). Researchers working with primates have used American Sign Language, a computer keyboard system with discrete lexigrams, and a portable lexigram keyboard (Gardner & Gardner, 1969; Rumbaugh, 1977; Savage-Rumbaugh, 1986). Savage-Rumbaugh decided to take a different approach to learning after one individual demonstrated the ability to use the keyboard without structured training, rather humans would model by using the symbols during daily interactions.

The following study aimed to follow a similar approach, to determine if dolphins demonstrate comparable success in demonstrating comprehension and production utilizing a keyboard, specifically for location symbols. The dolphins demonstrated the ability to learn to use the keyboard and were able to make associations between location symbol and referent. Dolphins showed greater than chance levels of visiting a correct location first after key activation. Overall, there was a significant decrease in the amount of time between key activation and dolphin arrival time to the location. The results suggest the dolphins did develop an understanding of a location symbol, and its referent, the location in the enclosure.