Aug 05 2013

Every Dolphin Has A Name

Published by at 7:30 am under Mammals

A Bottlenose Dolphin plays in a boat's wake (photo from NASA archive via Wikimedia Commons)

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.


p.s.  This confirms my belief, garnered from T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, that many animals have their own secret names.  We just don't know what they are.

(photo from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)

One response so far

One Response to “Every Dolphin Has A Name”

  1. MomTeeon 06 Aug 2013 at 8:56 am

    The past several days, our news has noted the large numbers of dolphins found dead on the East Coast beaches this year. No one seems to know exactly why it’s happening. In Virginia Beach they’ve counted 100 this year. A really huge number. Wish the dolphins could tell us why.

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