Saturday, February 23, 2013

Dolphins have names?

I was astonished to read at Discovery News that dolphins use unique personal names when calling other dolphins.

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.

. . .

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.

There's more at the link.

This is fascinating!  If dolphin self-awareness extends to naming themselves, and knowing the names of others, and using those names in communication, it puts their level of intelligence far higher than other animals - second only to humans, in fact.  What does this say about how we should be treating them, and interacting with them?


1 comment:

Roy said...

I was a sonarman in the USN back in the day. I used to sit for hours on the stack and listen to dolphins converse. I was convinced then, and I am still convinced that they speak an intelligent language.

They reminded me of kids on a playground.