Dolphins Call Each Other By Unique Names

Posted on May 10, 2006

New research has found that bottlenose dolphins call each other by name using a unique whistle for each individual dolphin. Dr Vincent Janik, of the Sea Mammal Unit at St Andrews University, explained the research in a BBC article.

He said: "We captured wild dolphins using nets when they came near the shore.

"Then in the shallow water we recorded their whistles before synthesising them on a computer so that we had a computer voice of a dolphin.

"Then we played it back to the dolphins and we found they responded. This showed us that the dolphins know each other's signature whistle instead of just the voice.

"I think it is a very exciting discovery because it means that these animals have evolved the same abilities as humans.

"Now we know they have labels for each other like we do."

A press release says Dr Vincent Janik believes the dolphins use a naming system similar to human names.
"As infants, bottlenose dolphins develop their own signature whistles to use throughout their lifetimes. Group members repeat these whistles back during vocal interactions, and we believe that the whistles form a system similar to that of human names."

The researchers played synthetic whistles to dolphins through an underwater speaker. In 9 out of 14 cases, the dolphin would turn more often toward the speaker if it heard a whistle resembling that of a close relative, demonstrating that the synthetic signature whistle contains information that is used by the listeners to identify the caller.

Since dolphins reacted less to synthetic whistles of unrelated dolphins, the research suggests that dolphins use unique signature whistles to keep track of friends and family and maintain group cohesion.

It has long been thought that dolphins are very intelligent and this research provides yet more evidence to back up this theory. Note: Dr Vincent Janik also took the photograph on the right.

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