Dictionary.com

dolphins, signature whistles, speakingsScientists have long known that animals communicate with each other. Some species (like the vervet monkeys) make particular sounds that represent a specific direction or warning to others, but we don’t really know how animal groups relate to each other linguistically in the wild.

Recently, scientists discovered that bottlenose dolphins (the ones that look like Flipper) have more complex social communication than previously thought. At the University of St Andrews in Scotland, Nicola J. Quick and Vincent M. Janik recorded bottlenose dolphins encountering other pods in the wild. Using computerized sound analysis, they found consistent sounds when the groups approached each other. They observed that each dolphin made a particular whistle, as if they were saying, “Hi, my name is Mary.” The scientists are calling these sounds “signature whistles.” The dolphins will call out to another pod, then join up and travel together for a little while.

Listen to a sample dolphin whistle.

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Read the entire academic paper here.

But what does this mean? Just because the dolphins repeat sounds, does it mean that they are using “language”? The research is still in the early stages, and it is not yet clear what all the sounds mean. How do the dolphins decide who calls out to the other groups? What catalyzes the interaction? Do groups regularly encounter the same groups during one day? Learn more at the Discover Magazine blog here.

Can any animal understand language, as we think of it? When dogs follow directions, do they actually understand the words? Learn about the border collie who understands 1,000 words here.

Do you think dolphins are “speaking?”

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92 Comments

  1. CM -  October 7, 2012 - 11:04 am

    I saw this program once, about dolphins. There was an experiment to see if dolphins recognized their own reflection. At first, they didn’t, and tried to interact with it as though it were another dolphin.
    Then, they noticed that it was a reflection, not another dolphin, and realized that it was their OWN REFLECTION. The dolphins were actually curious to see what they looked like, and spent a while examining themselves in the mirror.
    The program also showed that dolphins seem to have names and that they call each other by their names, as well as that they might be capable of empathy (even more so than us, as they were possibly able to empathize with humans).
    I would like to think that someday, inter-species communication will be possible.

    Reply
  2. Jaqueclyn -  June 11, 2012 - 1:22 pm

    I love dolphins because they are my favorite animals i all ways want to touched one and do some tricks.Dose the dolphins swim 5 to 7 miles per hour if they chasing their prey.If u splashing in the water will they come closer to u if u in the water with them. Adult eat up to 4% to 5% of their body weight per day but a nursing mother may eat up to 8% per day.Can dolphins stay up to 15 minutes under water.Dolphins use herding by swimming along in the ocean and eating fish at the same time, by working together.And that’s my common for the dolphins because the dolphins are so cute and they also dolphins are know to share a special relation with humans.That’s my common about the dolphins. by Jaqueclyn Nicole Miller

    Reply
  3. royalcanine -  May 3, 2012 - 11:51 am

    ahaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa… dolphin …my favorite animal

    Reply
  4. Mackenzie -  April 10, 2012 - 11:52 am

    i think they are speaking dolphins r very smart and i really like them

    Reply
  5. mary torres 4tlom -  April 9, 2012 - 7:14 am

    i lke pie and candy lol 8)

    Reply
  6. andreia -  April 7, 2012 - 11:57 am

    I do think they are talking!
    I believe God created all his creatures in a so intelligent way that this is possible. When you stare on working ants in the summer you can see when they are passing by each other they are kind of greeting each other, then they take their way…I am convinced animals have their way of talking to their own specie, of course.

    Reply
  7. emilia -  April 6, 2012 - 2:57 pm

    It may be useful to be like dolphins and think outside the square. Whatever they use to communicate has to be their ‘language’…we can go on measuring everything against the ‘way we do things’ .

    Reply
  8. Joseph -  April 6, 2012 - 11:59 am

    – if you say that these babes talk to each other, you mean they speak.
    Basically, they do not talk to each other. Their language is not “learnable” for us. So it is not a language in human perception.
    My little dog barks and taps his empty plate. Is that “talk”? (so I know he is hungry.)
    A policeman blows his whistle, and you don’t call it language.
    Again – let linguists decide. I want to hear one say that dolphins talk.
    Even an oceanographer may say that dolphins – or any – make themselves understood up to a certain point. But there is no grounds to call it language.

    Reply
  9. Jace -  April 6, 2012 - 10:49 am

    I love dolphins soo much! Of course thats true! Dolphins are super intelligent!

    Reply
  10. Taylor Chadens -  April 6, 2012 - 9:21 am

    Aaaahhhhhhh. So cute. Dolphins saying hi is the cutest thing ever!

    Reply
  11. maya selote -  April 6, 2012 - 8:47 am

    These are very interesting cute animals who i think have a great way of communicating with each other. Since i am an oceanographer, i think than these babes are definetly talking to each other. They are probably telling each other that they are hungry, telling each other that there might be danger, or telling each other to shoo off in a cute way. Thanks Dictionary.com! This will help a lot of people understand why animals communicate with each other! LOVE U!!!!!!!!!!!!!! say hi to heather for me and tell her that hers was good!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply
  12. Jaykson -  April 6, 2012 - 7:33 am

    Dolphins are very intelligent as I know.But I wonder if they can speak.I mean,I just heard them whistling.But still,dolphins are getting more and more interesting for me.I hope I discover more about dolphins and all other animals,too.

    Reply
  13. Bron -  April 6, 2012 - 5:36 am

    not so sure this is recent study. My children’s book ‘do whales have belly-buttons’ taught me dolphin’s have ‘signature whistles’ years ago…

    Reply
  14. prameee -  April 6, 2012 - 4:16 am

    This news really sounds interesting.
    Great job

    Reply
  15. Juzzy -  April 6, 2012 - 4:06 am

    Yes, I also think they speak. They are almost as intelligent as humans, so that’s very possible. We people just think we’re the best, so we think animals can’t think for themselves. It’s high time scientists examined it!

    Reply
  16. THE Caitlyn -  April 5, 2012 - 4:58 pm

    I LOVE ur comment Luthien and JP !!

    Reply
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