Recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is a study that demonstrates how wild bottlenose dolphins’ unique whistle-based method of communication helps identify themselves and others in their group. Researchers from St. Andrews University, studying a single group, recorded each dolphin’s signature sound and played them back to the group using underwater speakers. They found that a dolphin hearing their sound would repeat their sound back, just as a human hearing their name would respond. Playing foreign sounds, such as those from a different group of dolphins, produced no response.
What’s the Big Idea?
The study helps prove what scientists have long suspected about this particular species of dolphin. Co-author Vincent Janik says, “[Dolphins] live in an environment where they need a very efficient system to stay in touch…Most of the time they can’t see each other, they can’t use smell underwater, which is a very important sense in mammals for recognition, and they also don’t tend to hang out in one spot.” He and his team believe this may be the first observation of animals using a language-based labeling system of their own, though other studies have indicated that some parrot species may have something similar.