ONTD Political

Dolphins Call Each Other By Name

7:58 pm - 02/26/2013

Bottlenose dolphins call out the specific names of loved ones when they become separated, a study finds.

Other than humans, the dolphins are the only animals known to do this, according to the study, published in the latest Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The big difference with bottlenose dolphins is that these communications consist of whistles, not words.

Earlier research found that bottlenose dolphins name themselves, with dolphins having a “signature whistle” that encodes other information. It would be somewhat like a human shouting, “Hey everybody! I’m an adult healthy male named George, and I mean you no harm!”

The new finding is that bottlenose dolphins also say the names of certain other dolphins.

“Animals produced copies when they were separated from a close associate and this supports our belief that dolphins copy another animal’s signature whistle when they want to reunite with that specific individual,” lead author Stephanie King of the University of St. Andrews Sea Mammal Research Unit told Discovery News.

King and her colleagues collected acoustic data from wild bottlenose dolphins around Sarasota Bay, Fla., from 1984 to 2009. The researchers also intensely studied four captive adult male dolphins housed at The Seas Aquarium, also in Florida.

The captive males are adults that keepers named Calvin, Khyber, Malabar and Ranier.

These bottlenose dolphins, however, as well as all of the wild ones, developed their own signature whistles that serve as names in interactions with other dolphins.

“A dolphin emits its signature whistle to broadcast its identity and announce its presence, allowing animals to identify one another over large distances and for animals to recognize one another and to join up with each other,” King explained. “Dolphin whistles can be detected up to 20 km away (12.4 miles) depending on water depth and whistle frequency.”

The researchers said dolphins copy the signature whistles of loved ones, such as a mother or close male buddy, when the two are apart. These “names” were never emitted in aggressive or antagonistic situations and were only directed toward loved ones.

The whistle copies also always had a unique variation to them, so the dolphins weren’t merely mimicking each other. The dolphins instead were adding their own “tone of voice” via unique whistling.

While researchers often hesitate to apply the “l word” -- language -- to non-human communications, bottlenose dolphins and possibly other dolphin species clearly have a very complex and sophisticated communication system.

“Interestingly, captive dolphins can learn new signals and refer to objects and it may be that dolphins can use signature whistle copies to label or refer to an individual, which is a skill inherent in human language,” King said.

Heidi Harley, a professor of psychology at New College of Florida, is a leading expert on cognitive processes in dolphins. She agrees with the new paper’s conclusions.

Harley told Discovery News that it can be challenging to study dolphin signature whistles, since it’s difficult to identify which particular dolphin is emitting the sounds, and whether or not the sounds are just mimicked copies.

“This study provides evidence that copies of signature whistles include elements that differ from the whistles of the original whistler, while still maintaining the changes in frequency over time that allow a listener to identify the original whistler,” Harley said. “In addition, that signature whistle copying occurs between close associates, suggesting it is used affiliatively.”

King and her team are now using sound playback experiments to see how wild, free-ranging dolphins respond to hearing a copy of their own signature whistle.

lisasimpsonfan 27th-Feb-2013 02:13 am (UTC)
That is so incredibly cool. This is like step on figuring out their language. I am just amazed.
ericadawn16 27th-Feb-2013 03:01 am (UTC)
And then we could all be like Megan Fox?
ljtaylor 27th-Feb-2013 09:54 am (UTC)
lol this comment
natyanayaki 27th-Feb-2013 02:24 am (UTC)
<3 <3 <3 <3

I can't help but think of dolphin individuals calling out the names of the ones who have been caught in fishing nets...
kittenmommy 27th-Feb-2013 03:04 am (UTC)

OMG. :*(
spiritoftherain 27th-Feb-2013 06:08 pm (UTC)
aaaaaa noooooo Idon'twanttothinkabotuthis
redstar826 27th-Feb-2013 06:35 pm (UTC)
clevermanka 27th-Feb-2013 07:21 pm (UTC)
roseofjuly 28th-Feb-2013 07:27 am (UTC)
romp 27th-Feb-2013 03:08 am (UTC)
We know cetaceans are too smart to treat the way we do. It's one thing to read that they live in groups, another to see a young orca missing his mother and family (like in Saving Luna).
natyanayaki 28th-Feb-2013 02:12 am (UTC)
radname 27th-Feb-2013 03:11 am (UTC)
Dolphins are so smart. But also evil.
snarksnarklaugh 27th-Feb-2013 04:47 am (UTC)
Image and video hosting by TinyPic
kagehikario 28th-Feb-2013 02:22 am (UTC)
I want to know what was happening in this dog's head...
aviv 27th-Feb-2013 05:45 am (UTC)
yes, they give me the creeps
ljtaylor 27th-Feb-2013 09:56 am (UTC)
YES. don't they have, er, interesting sex lives
cinnamontoast 27th-Feb-2013 03:06 pm (UTC)
It's like one big underwater frat party.
cuterabbit33 27th-Feb-2013 01:54 pm (UTC)
Not gunna lie, when I saw the headline my first thought is Planet of the Apes but with dolphins.
stainedfeathers 27th-Feb-2013 03:42 am (UTC)
"Other than humans, the dolphins are the only animals known to do this"

Either the writer of this article or the studymakers haven't been paying attention to other news in this field (can't tell who made that statement) but humans are not the only other animal known to do this. Last year a study found that Parrots do this as well- the babies learn their names from their parents. Pretty cool stuff.
hinoema 27th-Feb-2013 07:10 am (UTC)
Also, I recall an article about birds teaching the chicks in the egg to use family specific calls to tuft out impostors.
stainedfeathers 27th-Feb-2013 08:02 am (UTC)
I don't have the time to look if up now but I think I remember the one you're talking about. It had to do with other birds teaching their babies while still in the egg, family specific calls, so when cuckoo's and other parasitic birds like that try and lay their eggs in the nest, they don't know the family call. Then the cuckoos started getting their eggs in sooner or something like that- essentially it was an evolutionary arms race kinda thing. Really fascinating.
louisiane_fille 27th-Feb-2013 06:10 pm (UTC)
I remember that too! I found the story: http://www.nature.com/news/wrens-teach-their-eggs-to-sing-1.11779
stainedfeathers 28th-Feb-2013 02:03 am (UTC)
You rock! Thanks for the link! I knew I'd read/seen that somewhere. ^^ The evolutionary Arms Race between these birds just fascinates me. Then again anything about birds fascinates me... *total bird nerd*
betray802 28th-Feb-2013 12:03 am (UTC)
Several years ago, there was something about a guy proving the prairie dogs have language. There's a certain alarm call for "Snake!" When the alarm call was played near a bunch of zoo prairies (who have ostensibly never seen a snake in their lives) all of them started checking the ground around their area.
stainedfeathers 28th-Feb-2013 01:58 am (UTC)
We've known for a long time and for many different species that animals had language- I remember seeing a video on the different clucks chickens use to alert one another to dangers. One type of cluck for "danger from sky (hawks, etc.)" another for "danger from ground (coyotes, dogs, cats, etc.)". I think what was making this particular news remarkable wasn't the language aspect, but the self awareness aspect. Many animals have language but it's rare for them to have the intelligence to be self-aware and call one another by name or recognize themselves in mirrors (instead of thinking it's another animal).
betray802 28th-Feb-2013 02:07 am (UTC)
My cats ignore mirrors. Put them in front of a mirror, point, say "What's that?" They sniff in disdain and walk away.
xayeidemon 27th-Feb-2013 03:50 am (UTC)
King and her team are now using sound playback experiments to see how wild, free-ranging dolphins respond to hearing a copy of their own signature whistle.

If I were a dolphin, I'd be pissed if they did this to me. How frustrating would it be to hear someone calling your name over and over again, only to find out it's just a speaker and a recording and not one of your buddies?
evilnel 27th-Feb-2013 04:06 am (UTC)
Right? Next thing we know, these dolphins will be organizing a protest! That could be a really odd horror movie: Revenge of the Dolphins.
evildevil 27th-Feb-2013 04:07 am (UTC)
they could just start a "Do Not Call" list.
evilnel 27th-Feb-2013 04:18 am (UTC)
+1 You win an internetz.
xayeidemon 27th-Feb-2013 04:42 am (UTC)
This article also explains why Darwin always referred to himself in the third person on seaQuest.
snarksnarklaugh Not spamming I swear27th-Feb-2013 04:50 am (UTC)

This guy was basically the inspiration for that show.
xayeidemon Re: Not spamming I swear27th-Feb-2013 05:19 am (UTC)
That website is a blast from the past! And there was actually a character on sQ who was into interspecies communication and dolphins being the links between humans and advanced means of communications/evolution. He was dismissed as a crackpot, but everyone still liked him. I think his name was The Regulator or Lesley on the show, and he sounds identical to this John C. Lilly.

Fascinating stuff.
underlankers 27th-Feb-2013 02:32 pm (UTC)
So not only do they have the sadism of human beings, they have something of a language, too? The Hitchhiker's Guide was right!
darknessdivine 27th-Feb-2013 03:29 pm (UTC)
I know, right? If they start whistling the Star Spangled Banner while doing double backwards somersaults, I'm getting my towel.
lovelokest 27th-Feb-2013 03:48 pm (UTC)
So long and thanks for all the fish!
cinnamontoast 27th-Feb-2013 03:12 pm (UTC)
It all depends on how we define language. Using scent as language, dogs have names for each other as individuals also.

We limit animals if we stick to sound as language.
roseofjuly 28th-Feb-2013 07:29 am (UTC)
In psychology there's a pretty clearly defined operationalization of language, and that's what the study is referring to.
recorded 28th-Feb-2013 09:28 am (UTC)
Can dogs change their scents though (aside from rolling in poop)? Scent can be a way to communicate information, but is it something they can alter on the fly to choose the message they send as one can with sounds?
moonbladem 27th-Feb-2013 06:52 pm (UTC)
Dolphins are clearly intelligent, sentient beings, and so much smarter and compassionate than the average GOP politician.
natyanayaki 28th-Feb-2013 02:20 am (UTC)

And that link doesn't include the story of the group of boaters dolphins saved during the 2004 Tsunami. (I wish I could a link to that story/the boaters' interview).
roseofjuly 28th-Feb-2013 07:34 am (UTC)
That link says that only two attacks by cetaceans have been recorded. Are they not counting Tilikum's actions/incidents at SeaWorld?

natyanayaki 28th-Feb-2013 08:26 am (UTC)
I'm pretty sure it's not a complete site (I actually hadn't read the entire site, had looked specifically at the "rescue" section, because I was searching for the 2004 tsunami boater incident).
givemethepeasx 27th-Feb-2013 08:59 pm (UTC)
I thought we've known this for awhile. There's a good episode of David Attenborough's 'Trials of Life' on animal communication. I watched it recently and it's really fascinating how animals can communicate.
lizzy_someone 1st-Mar-2013 06:56 am (UTC)
Communicative sounds do not a language make. But this is still really cool!
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