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Dr Arik Kershenbaum is a zoologist, College Lecturer, and Fellow at Girton College, University of Cambridge.

He has researched animal vocal communication for the past 10 years, and has published more than 20 academic publications on the topic. He received his PhD at the University of Haifa in Israel, where he studied the complex communication of a small and poorly-understood mammal, the rock hyrax, demonstrating the sophisticated syntax of their bird-like songs. He has since concentrated on vocal communication in wolves and dolphins, looking at how their howls and whistles are used to convey specific information about the world around them. After a postdoctoral fellowship at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis in the USA, Dr Kershenbaum became interested in the less familiar ways that animals encode information in their signals, and what alternatives might exist to the word-sentence approach with which we are familiar from human language. He was Herchel Smith Research Fellow in Zoology at the University of Cambridge, before taking up his position at Girton College. He is a member of the international board of advisors for METI.org, a think tank on the topic of Messaging Extra Terrestrial Intelligence.

Understanding natural behaviour means that much of his work involves field studies of animal communication in the wild. He has a long-running field site in Yellowstone National Park in the USA, where he deploys a network of automatic recording devices to monitor wolf howling, and triangulate the positions of the wolves, even when they cannot be observed. He also works with colleagues in Spain and Italy studying the interactions between wolves and livestock guardian dogs. The other main study species for this research is wild bottlenose dolphins, which Dr Kershenbaum studies in the Red Sea town of Eilat, Israel. By observing the behaviour of the dolphins, and the sounds that they make, Dr Kershenbaum and his students investigate whether dolphins have special sounds, or “words” that they use in human interactions.

Dr Kershenbaum’s The Zoologist’s Guide to the Galaxy will be published in 2020 by Penguin Viking.