Jane Goodall: GMO & Echolocating Dolphins

Her allegation that the sounds the animals produce when using their echolocation bounce back from the walls of their tanks in their exhibits is correct but that is exactly how echolocation works.

Dr Jane Goodall is a scientist who became famous for her research in primatology particularly her work with wild chimpanzees in Africa specifically Gombe in Tanzania when she began her studies in the early 1960s. In 1986,  she published her first major work which was an accumulation of 25 years of original research in The Chimpanzees of Gombe: Patterns of Behaviour. She went on to found the Jane Goodall Institute in 1977 who amongst their mission statements state:

"Improve global understanding and treatment of great apes through research, public education and advocacy"

In later years, she became something of a wildlife celebrity and broadened her interests into other areas of environmentalism and animal-rights. 

From 1998 to 2008, she was a director of the animal-rights group Advocates for Animals: a group that was originally founded as the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Vivisection and was later rebranded as OneKind. She resigned this post in 2008 for reasons that some have suggested was due to her support of a new chimpanzee exhibit at Edinburgh zoo which went against OneKind's ethos of: "keeping animals in captivity for entertainment".   

She was later involved in more controversy with accusations of plagiarism in her 2012 book "Seeds of Hope".   

More recently she has been criticised for her support of "Altered Genes, Twisted Truth" an anti-GMO polemic written by the American lawyer Steve Druker. To this end, her position was also criticised in the sceptical pod cast Skeptic's Guide to the Universe under the section "The Dumbest Thing I Heard This Week"

However, Dr Goodall's most recent foray into areas of controversy is her attack on the SeaWorld marine parks and its keeping of cetaceans (whales and dolphins) reported in the Huffington Post and picked up by a number of other media outlets.   

This is not the first time that she has attacked the practice of keeping cetaceans in captive care as over a year ago she also attacked the non-profit Vancouver Public Aquarium for their public display of cetaceans. Unfortunately, there seems to be no evidence that she has visited either Vancouver Aquarium (or indeed the SeaWorld parks) or directly spoken to their staff and scientists regarding her concerns despite an open invitation to do so.

Of course, the major problem with Dr Goodall's vociferous opinions is that she does not actually have any direct research knowledge of whales and dolphins either in aquaria or the wild as she remains above all an expert on African fauna and specifically primates.

This is clearly obvious in her comments regarding dolphin echolocation (sonar). Further, she confuses the echolocation of dolphins with their communication skills - the two are unrelated.

Her statement that the sounds the animals produce when using their echolocation bounce back from the walls of their exhibits is correct - that is exactly how echolocation works - but at this point her understanding sadly falters.

Dolphin echolocation is very sophisticated and it is this very sophistication that make them exquisite tools the dolphins exploit when hunting or exploring their environment; the sophistication of the dolphins echolocation is believed by some to be the reason these animals have complex brains.

In using their echolocation, dolphins are fully capable of controlling their echolocation beam in both direction and strength (volume); it is not a blunt instrument and animals have total control of this function in a similar way we humans can vary the volume and pitch when we are talking. As stated, echolocation is used is for hunting or investigating objects.

Further, it should be realised that dolphins also have extremely good eyesight both above and below the surface (echolocation only works within the aquatic environment) and will sometime rely on their eye-sight and not their echolocation skills.

Moreover, there is no evidence to support Goodall's claim that dolphins in captivity live in an "acoustic hell" and such erroneous beliefs appear to have been lifted directly from animal-rights websites and are not accurate.  Dolphins actively control their sonar it is nether autonomous or an unconscious sense.

It is somewhat ironic that if Dr Goodall had taken the opportunity to research dolphin echolocation she may well have been surprised to learn that much of the pioneering research into this ability was undertaken in captivity in laboratories and aquariums; originally by scientists such as Arthur McBride at the Marine Studios (Marineland of Florida) in the 1940s and later Dr Winthrop Kellogg in the 1950s (Au, 1993). It is a further irony that prior to this Dr Kellogg had also undertaken chimpanzee language research and Dr Goodall may well have been familiar with his early endeavours.

In fact, if Dr Goodall and her followers are so concerned about the welfare of dolphins such as killer whales they need to be looking to the wild and groups living on the eastern Pacific as these appear to be having serious problems far more pressing than animals cosseted in a well run aquarium.

Finally, her comments that dolphins "have a emotion like ours" perhaps reveals how far she as a scientist has drifted from viewing things with true objectivity. 

To this end, Dr Goodall would be advised to review Dr Justin Gregg's recent book regarding dolphin cognition "Are Dolphins Really Smart: the Mammal behind the Myth" published in 2013.

In this book, Dr Greg puts into perspective the fallacy of the much vaulted intelligence of dolphins which is greatly exaggerated. He primarily lays the fault of this erroneous perception at the doors of neuroscientist DrJohn Lilly and his work with dolphins in the 1960s. Lilly was a man who became over time an incredibly controversial figure who (after the funding dried up for his dolphin language work from groups such as NASA) went on and experimented with floatation chambers and drugs. He even injected LSD into dolphins to see what effect it would have on them.

Unfortunately, Lilly later became a guru for the counter-culture movement in which he perpetuated and extolled many views which by this point had strayed considerably from rational science into the world of metaphysics and sadly pseudo-science.

Finally, it would be more accurate to maintain that chimpanzees are probably cognitively more sophisticated than dolphins. Which makes Dr Goodall's position on dolphins in captive care even more disappointing and contradictory in that she seems to be willing to accept and support chimpanzees in zoological establishments such as Edinburgh zoo; support elephants being transferred to a zoo rather an animal-rights run sanctuary but illogically attacks the keeping of dolphins in all well-run aquariums or zoos.

More of dolphin echolocation HERE