In nature, dolphins ‘whistle’ by name

bottlenose_dolphinsA study of 200 bottlenose dolphins off the eastern coast of Scotland found that they are the only non-human mammals to use the names of those in their close circles to get each other’s attention.

“It is the first evidence we really have of naming and labeling in the animal kingdom,” said lead author Stephanie King of the Sea Mammal Research Unit in the School of Biology at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

“I think it draws some quite interesting parallels between dolphin and human communication, which is something people had thought was the case but hadn’t been experimentally proven until now,” she told AFP.

Scientists have previously found that each dolphin creates his or her own signature whistle, or name, in the first few months of life. Then, they spend a lot of time swimming around and announcing themselves. About half of a wild dolphin’s whistles are its own signature whistle, King said. But King and her co-author Vincent Janik wondered what would happen if a dolphin heard someone else calling out his or her signature whistle. So they recorded a group of dolphins and played back the sounds of their name whistles, one by one.

“Interestingly, the animals would only respond and only react when they heard their own whistle,” said King, whose study appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a US journal. Via In nature, dolphins ‘whistle’ by name.

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