Aug 05 2013
We’re used to the notion that we name dolphins (remember Flipper?) but did you know that dolphins name themselves and call each other by name?
Last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland published a study of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) that explains how dolphins communicate by name.
Using underwater microphones they recorded dolphins’ voices and discovered that each one had his own unique whistle, a signature sound. Having matched the signatures to individuals they then played back the sounds, one at a time. The dolphin who “owned” the sound responded.
This is just like what humans do. If you call out “Kate,” I’ll respond — if I hear you.
Hearing is probably the reason why dolphins have named themselves. They live in a world where it’s hard to see but easy to hear (sound travels better in water than in air). They also live in a social group that’s always on the move. When a friend has swum out of sight they call him and the friend answers. This makes it easy for the group to stay together.
Researcher Vincent Janik points out that individual communication is also important for mothers and calves. Baby dolphins rely on their mothers’ milk until they are three years old yet they’re just as mobile as their mothers. What an advantage that they can call each other by name!
Read more about the study and see a video of the research at this link at BBC News.
(photo from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)