“I’d like to be able to put this more diplomatically, but, in my opinion, at least, what strikes me as “mainstream thinking” in the marine mammal science community is obsolete and philosophically uninformed.” ~ Dr. Thomas White, Sonar advisor

Sonar’s research examines communication between humans and wild cetaceans, including solitary sociable dolphins (sometimes called “friendly” dolphins), through an interspecies sociological and psychological lens. We seek to gain deeper insights into who these beings are.

What Sets Sonar’s Research Apart?

We challenge basic assumptions and incorporate the highest ethical standards into our work.

Challenging Assumptions: Most contemporary scientific exploration into the other-than-human mind carries with it two assumptions: first, that other animals have limited cognitive and affective abilities compared with humans; and second, that humans are inherently superior in all other ways. Increasingly, these long-held assumptions have been proven as being scientifically inaccurate, yet they persist in coloring the results and designs of many studies. Sonar’s research casts off these assumptions in favor of a more ethical approach that de-centers the human experience.

Collaborative Approach:  Our research takes the form of a collaborative, cross-cultural exploration between cetaceans and humans. This approach will likely yield deeper insights into who cetaceans are. Our assumptions are that each participating individual, human and otherwise, are beings with the same intrinsic dignity and worth. No one perspective is more valid than any other. Each individual has something of value to contribute, and something to learn.

Highlighting Ethics: Many scientists maintain a distinct separation between science and ethics. Yet this separation can lead to cruelty and skewed results. Ethical considerations are often viewed as diminishing ‘objectivity’, but objectivity itself is often prone to the aforementioned biases.

Sonar conducts research according to the highest ethical standards. We believe that, in order to obtain a true image of who cetaceans are, they must be treated as fairly as any human being. Cetaceans must only be studied in contexts of their choosing, and only in their own natural habitat. We come to the research with the understanding that cetaceans and humans want to learn from one another – it is not a one-way street. Various observations that make it clear that certain cetacean individuals want to establish a connection with and learn about human culture. Often, these individuals are solitary sociable dolphins.


We will document and observe, if possible, the communicative styles and shared meanings that may emerge from interactions with cetaceans. We also will combine traditional ethological models with innovative methods, to explore:

  • Shared understandings between our species
  • What dolphin communication reveals about their needs, choices & values
  • Who dolphins are, as individuals of intrinsic value, intention & purpose

We draw from the Interspecies Collaborative Research paradigm, developed by Dr. Toni Frohoff with Dr. Lori Marino, as well as Indigenous Research methodologies as presented by Shawn Wilson, both of which avoid the researcher/subject dichotomy in favor of a collaborative approach, contributing to unusually high ethical standards that are also capable of revealing intimate data about dolphin individuals and cultures that are otherwise difficult to observe.

We will be engaging in a truly collaborative effort, a mutual exercise, with cetaceans. We will only engage with individual who are free-ranging, who initiate contact and on their terms. Most frequently, these individuals are solitary sociable dolphins and whales.

If you would like to learn more about this research and get involved, please contact laura (at)


Photo credit: @Atmoji