Day 12
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Friday, June 17, 12:30PM

Most of the day was quite boring. It was just delay after delay and all we did was sit around mostly. A few of us went to the beach for a while and had a quick swim, then attended Dr. Pack’s lecture on the future of the institute. That lecture was actually quite interesting. As it turns out, Dr. Herman, the facility’s originator, came to the University of Hawaii to set up experimentation with rats. He found out soon that he was "allergic" to rats (I never found out if it was a physical alergy or just didn't like them) and so went digging through the library to find an animal related to Hawaii (more so than the rat anyway) that had potential for research. Dolphins seemed the perfect choice since virtually nothing was concretely known about them, although lots of speculation had been done. While looking for a facility, he ran into a small, run-down old double tank facility by the ocean that the city was using for storage at the time. None of the pumps worked, the fence was falling apart, and offices were all but non-existent. Apparently, an entrepreneur had built the facility to display sharks, and when no one came he started to pay some local surfers to go in the water with the sharks to try to draw people. A few people were bitten by the sharks, and the facility eventually went bankrupt. That’s when Dr. Herman stepped in. He took over the building, he expanded the tanks by connecting them, and he raised the tank walls to store more water. His initial studies back in the early 70s were on dolphin visual ability and hearing ability, proving that dolphins in fact have very good vision and extremely sensitive hearing, contrary to what was typically thought before this. From there, everything else just flowed like water from a hose, and the facility became what it is today.

Dr. Pack also talked about the likelihood that the institute would build a new facility at some point in the near future. He showed us one artist’s rendition of what a new facility would look like, and it was simply amazing. Right now, the facility is on roughly one-quarter of an acre. The new facility would probably be on 5 plus acres. It would be an insanely large lagoon setup with inter-joining pools and bridges. Looking at this marvelous looking image, I couldn’t help but ask whether there were plans to move the dolphin institute focus to more of a public facility rather than a private research facility. He said that ideally, the new facility would be used more often by the community for education and possibly just regular visitors.
Elele looking straight
Elele was her usual playfull self with Robert
Personally, I can’t see how the facility could maintain the type of participant program they have now if they go to this kind of a setup, but Dr. Pack assured me that the facility would still be used for research and the participant program would not change significantly. I certainly hope not, because I wouldn’t have changed anything about what I have experienced here in the last two weeks. Still, it’s exciting to see how big they’re thinking of becoming.

During the fourth session cross modal, Robert was working with Elele, and I watched the session from the lanai above him. I was supposed to be the blind observer for the cross-modal, but they were having problems with the sound equipment and they just aborted the trials. This left me nothing better to do then watch what Robert was doing with Ellie. She was in a great mood, as per usual for Ellie, and Robert was actually being very good with her, and he seemed quite enthusiastic during the session. He wasn’t really doing any particular hand signals but was just letting Ellie do what she wanted while he played around with her. What made this particularly neat was Ellie started to do things on her own without being asked to do them, and Robert improvised on the situation to make a game out of whatever she did. For example, at one point Robert had his feet up on the edge of the wall. Ellie came over after doing a jump or something and pushed her rostrum on his left foot. He made a little beeping noise. Then she pushed on his right foot. He made another noise. She went back to the left foot, and then the right, and then the right again, and then the left, and each time Robert would make a noise. It was like she was playing a keyboard.

Another really cool thing she did was mimicry. She began to mimic Robert as much as she could, and Robert started to mimic her as well. At one point, Ellie would wave her pecks in the air, then Robert would wave his hands in the air. She’d wave her tail, and he’d wave his feet. She’d spin around backwards, he’d do the same. It’s cool enough to see her mimic a human, but to actually have her interested in having a human mimic her was truly a cool sight.

I didn’t have my Aloha local today, so I guess I might have gotten my wish for one on Monday. I had asked Alyssa if I could have Elele as my last local and have it on Monday, and she said she’d see what she could do. I really hope it works out that way, but I’m worried that they’ll have to run an angular resolution or cross modal study with Elele and it’d restrict what I could do with her if I even can work with her at all. Man, I sure hope I can work with her again though.

We had our aloha going-away party tonight at the lab. The staff holds this party every two weeks to say goodbye to all the participants, and it was lots of fun.
Aloha party
The Aloha party was a lot of fun! This picture shows about half of the people who were there.
Actually, tonight was special since a number of people, including Sean, were leaving as well, so it was kind of a combo party for them and us. The lab staff made everyone fajitas, and they were actually very good considering how much volume of food there was. Dr. Herman and Dr. Pack said about three or four separate speeches saying thank you and so on, and so did a number of other people. Strangely enough, none of us participants got up and said anything (although I was THIS close). There were so many thank yous being said already that it would have just been annoying anyways, so I’ll thank everyone personally when I actually leave on Monday.

Quite to my surprise, Dr. Pack and Dr. Herman had a number of conversations with me. I guess I find this surprising since I’m only a lowly participant and these guys are THE guys in dolphin intelligence research. Maybe I’m just not self confident enough to think I’m worthy of speaking to, but I suppose it makes sense from all the time I worked with both of them during the last few days. I had spent a large part of today and yesterday working with both of them on getting some sound problems worked out with a hydro-phone for cross-modal and for angular resolution. I tried to offer any suggestions that came to mind, but I could tell that these guys knew everything they were talking about and I couldn’t really suggest anything in most cases. Still, I guess they liked the questions I was asking and they probably started to notice just how much work I was actually doing around the lab (enjoying every minute, I might add). I guess they like me… =) Dr. Pack asked me about when I was leaving and asked for me to keep in touch. I told him that I definitely would keep in touch. For some reason, having him say something like that really made me feel like I had actually made a difference. I don’t think any of the other participants got any comments like that from him, but I could be wrong. As it turns out, what they did in the last few days using the hydro-phone will likely unlock the technical secrets behind how dolphin sonar works and why it works so well. I can say I had an active part in the process, and that sure makes me feel good.

I’m probably going to the lab to help with Dr. Potter’s broken data-recorder from fourth session, but I also might head to Sea-Life Park to see what that’s like. We’ll see.

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