Dolphins Are Polite In Conversation

Bottlenose dolphin (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

20 October 2020

We know that dolphins are intelligent and that their whistles and clicks are a form of communication. It was only a matter of time before we figured out part of what they’re saying. For instance …

Dolphins say their own names using a “signature” whistle.

In 2016 we learned that mother dolphins name their babies by speaking a new signature whistle — the baby’s name — a few days before the calf is born and for two weeks after birth. The calf learns the name its mother gave it and later names itself with its own signature whistle.

Bottlenose dolphins, mother and baby (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Four years ago the Dolphins Plus research institute in Florida proved that dolphins talk to each other when cooperating on a task. Though they didn’t call this “speech,” the Karadag Nature Reserve in Ukraine later showed that dolphins speak in complete sentences of at least five words.

What amazed me most about that discovery is that each dolphin waited for the other one to complete its speech before responding. I’m impressed that dolphins are polite in conversation.

In my family we all talk at the same time. Though we don’t always hear what the other person is saying, we don’t get offended if someone speaks while we speak. It was many years before I realized the behavior is impolite and I still struggle to wait and listen.

I should take a lesson from dolphins.

Bottlenose dolphin (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)

6 thoughts on “Dolphins Are Polite In Conversation

  1. Great article, Kate. I have had to catch myself, in this world of Covid 19, not to talk over someone, or dominate the conversation. With being pretty much alone all the time, when I do get around another human, and hear a voice, it is like “Oh boy! Someone to talk with”……and it seems I have plenty of conversation stored up too!!

  2. Why aren’t scientists studying how dolphins talk to each other?
    2 dolphins in 2 glass tanks, separated by a glass wall.
    One knows that the food compartment is in the upper right hand of the tank.
    How does it tell the other one? Record it.
    Or the food is in a compartment with a circular symbol, not a triangular one.
    How is that communicated? Or top or bottom. And so on.
    I can’t understand why this is not being done. Or is it? Please tell me.

    1. Laurence, though I don’t know of a study, I am sure that people who spend lots of time with dolphins understand some of what dolphins say to each other in a combination of vocalization and body language.

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