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Dolphins taught to use Panasonic Toughbooks, throw the iPad back

Dolphins love fish -- and gadgets. Our cetacean friends are being to taught how to talk to scientists -- and they've taken a side in the Mac vs PC debate.

Humans are no longer alone in our love of gadgets: dolphins, it seems, love them too. And they've even taken a side in the eternal Mac vs PC debate: as sealife experts attempt to figure out how to talk to the dolphins, they've learned that dolphins prefer the Panasonic Toughbook to the Apple iPad.

Miami-based non-profit organisation SpeakDolphin is teaching our cetacean chums to use a Panasonic Toughbook computer as a precursor to the first real conversation between man and dolphin. It's waterproof and bright enough to see in the Florida sunshine, and dolphins like the young male bottlenose, Merlin, love it.

Early attempts to get through to the dolphins weren't so successful. The iPad may be good enough for David Hockney but it's no match for the Toughbook in the getting damp stakes -- or even getting a bit warm for that matter. That, and the cheeky cetaceans kept getting distracted by Ecco the Dolphin.

Communicating with the dolphins begins with a game in which the dolphins must match real objects to pictures on the iPad. This kid's game gets the dolphins used to the concept of using symbols to represent real things, which is the basis of written language. Once they've got their blow-holes around that idea, they'll be shown symbols for actions along with dolphin sounds.

Tests show that different dolphins make the same noise when shown the same picture. That's got the boffins convinced dolphins have their own language with syntax and vocabulary, as opposed to just making noises that signal how they're feeling. Unless that noise is dolphin for, "What the hell is going on? Give me some fish!"

The next step is to build a translator that will decode dolphin and translate human talk in real-time for an actual conversation. UK company Greenaway Marine will then build a 55-inch underwater home entertainment system which can be controlled from the Toughbook. Great. Now sealife has a bigger telly than us.

SpeakDolphin invites you to contribute questions to ask the dolphins. The first 20 questions to be asked include "What name does your species call itself?", "Do cetaceans believe in an afterlife?" and "Are cetaceans in communication with life forms beyond this planet?" We'd like to know what their favourite apps are.

The conversation is hoped to take place as early as next year, although we imagine they'll stay away from the whole gang-rape thing to avoid an awkward silence. We already know what they're going to say anyway: "So long... and thanks for all the fish."