How dolphins call each other by name

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iol scitech feb 21 bottlenose dolphins

REUTERS

File photo: The death toll exceeds the 740 dolphins killed during the last big outbreak of the then-unknown virus in 1987-88.

London - Dolphins will call out the ‘name’ of a loved one they want to be reunited with, a study has found.

The highly intelligent and sociable creatures are known to use their own signature whistle to introduce themselves to others.

Now experts have shown that a calf separated from its mother mimics her short, sharp whistle in what is thought to be a way of trying to trigger a reunion. A male will use the same method to try to find its best friend of the same sex.

Researchers at St Andrews University analysed recordings of bottlenose dolphins from Florida which were periodically caught for health checks. During these checks the animals could normally hear, but not see, each other.

Information on captive dolphins at Walt Disney World, also in Florida, was factored in. The data showed that when two close male friends were separated, one would often mimic the whistle of the other.

The same was true of mothers and calves, the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B reports. The whistle wasn’t an exact copy, suggesting the creatures weren’t using mimicry as a way of deceiving other dolphins about their identity. Nor did it seem to be an act of aggression.

Researcher Stephanie King said: “Interestingly, signature whistle copying was only found in pairs of animals composed of mothers and their calves or adult males who form long-term alliances with one another.

“The fact that animals are producing whistle copies when they are separated from a close associate supports the idea that dolphins copy another animal’s signature whistle when they want to reunite with that specific individual.”

To back up her theory, Dr King plans to play dolphins recordings of others copying their whistle, to see how they respond.

The study is just the latest example of dolphin intelligence.

The creatures also communicate through body language, can be taught to understand the basic elements of human language including vocabulary, sentences, questions and demands, and will even watch TV and follow instructions delivered on the screen.

Such ingenuity has led to calls for dolphins to be designated “non-human persons” and given their own bill of rights. This would stop them being kept in zoos and waterparks and being harmed by fisheries. - Daily Mail

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