Scientists 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.
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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