In the 2000s or 2010s, I read a review about a sci-fi novel in which we learned that dolphins could not only navigate by echolocation, but communicate by it.

In other words, a dolphin could "squeak" in such a way that would appear, to another dolphin's sonar sense, the same as a rock or other solid object.

The author, if I recall correctly, referred to this as telepathy, because one dolphin could transmit "images" to another. Technically, however, it's transmitting sonograms.

  • Hmm. Alastair Reynolds's Chasm City has intelligent dolphins with implants that let them focus their echolocation sounds more precisely, and microorganisms in the water that light up when they're hit by light. That's so they can communicate with humans, though. – tobiasvl Mar 15 '17 at 20:39
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    There might be something about it in David Brin's Uplift cycle. I seem to remember one of Creideiki's companions having a name that, in sound, "resembled" his distinctive nose shape. – LSerni Mar 15 '17 at 21:28
  • Also possibly World of Ptavvs by Larry Niven. – Spencer Aug 2 '19 at 22:18
  • Sapient Cetaceans trope. – Spencer Aug 2 '19 at 22:22
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    @ShawnVWilson Link-only comments are perfectly OK as long as they help with what they're commenting on. They help prevent link-only answers. – Spencer Aug 4 '19 at 16:41

This may be Into the Deep by Ken Grimwood. The dolphins in this book manage to communicate with humans as well.

Set on land and beneath the oceans, Into the Deep reveals, once again, Ken Grimwood's exceptional talent for blending fantasy and reality. One part thriller, one part spiritual adventure, the exhilarating story at the heart of Into the Deep involves a hard-hitting journalist, a beautiful scientist, a globe-traveling engineer, and a venerable Portuguese fisherman. Vastly different, their lives are about to intersect and to become irrevocably changed by a school of dolphins--as the fate of the world hangs in the balance. With the drama that unfolds from a silent war waged at the sea's greatest depths and from a single, fateful discovery, Into the Deep takes a tantalizing glimpse at the optimistic future this planet might achieve if humans and the creatures of the deep could learn to share and defend its remarkable bounty.

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  • Is there, by any chance, any mention of paper being banned? If there is, this may be the answer to my question as well. – Gallifreyan May 17 '17 at 12:30
  • sorry, that sounds like a different story from Into the Deep. No mention of paper being banned. – Will May 17 '17 at 16:05

It could be

The Dolphins of Pern Novel by Anne McCaffrey

Synopsis from Amazon:

Two boys, one of them a dragonrider, re-establish crucial contact with the wise dolphins, the legendary "shipfish" of Pern.

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    Please tell me you are joking! She didn't write a dolphin book - no, please! OMG I googled it and she did. Sigh. – RedSonja May 17 '17 at 13:18
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    @RedSonja I enjoyed the first few, but then imo, the books became ridiculous. I have a daughter who at nine through twelve loved them all. Fair enough, they were written for her age group imo. – WRX May 17 '17 at 13:22
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    Some of the early Pern stories were Hugo winners! Hard to imagine now. – Organic Marble May 17 '17 at 18:48
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    @OrganicMarble McCaffrey got greedy and soon stopped caring about anything other than word counts and paycheques. And when Todd took over -- a joke. We read aloud to each other in our family and I was thrilled when our daughter lost interest in Pern. – WRX May 17 '17 at 18:56

Startide Rising (1983), by David Brin

Aboard the starship Streaker, Thomas Orley — a human who is skilled in this dolphin communication method — creates a sound-shape to pull Captain Creideiki (a dolphin) out of a blue mood:

Orley noticed his friend’s mood. He pursed his lips and whistled. His breather mask amplified a faint sound-shadow picture. The little echo danced and hopped like a mad elf from corner to corner in the oxywater-filled chamber. Workers in the weapons pod lifted their narrow, sound-sensitive jaws to follow the skipping sonar image as it scampered unseen, chittering in mock sympathy.


The sound-wraith vanished, but laughter remained.

Creideiki let the mirth settle. Then, from his brow came a pattern of chamber-filling clicks that merged to mimic the sounds of thunderclouds gathering. In the closed room those present heard raindrops blown before the wind. Tom closed his eyes to let the sound-image of a sea squall close over him.

Startide Rising, Chapter 11: Creideiki & Orley

Startide Rising is the second novel of The Uplift Saga by David Brin.

You can borrow Startide Rising as an e-book from The Open Library.

Front cover of Startide Rising

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  • the "transmitting images" part fits, but as far as I can remember it's never referred to, even metaphorically, as "telepathy" in the book ... – Ben Bolker Aug 5 '19 at 0:25

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