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Dolphin Name Game

February 11, 2015

Each bottlenose dolphin makes up its own signature whistle early in life that functions much like a name.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Dolphin name games. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Every bottlenose dolphin creates its own signature whistle early in life, kind of like a name.

VINCENT JANIK (University of St. Andrews):

It listens to everything around itself and then comes up with something that isn’t there yet, and then this animal uses that whistle whenever it’s kind of labeling its identity, when it’s by itself, for example; when it’s trying to make contact.

HIRSHON:

That’s University of St. Andrews marine biologist Vincent Janik. He and Stephanie King report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that when they played recordings of these signature whistles underwater…

(SFX: dolphin playback and whistle response)

dolphins only responded when they heard their own signature whistle, and not to those of other dolphins. This adds to earlier evidence that dolphins who are closely associated with each other – such as a mother and her offspring – may copy each others’ signature whistles and use them like names to stay in contact. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.