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Dolphin Names

June 5, 2006

Researchers have found that dolphins, like humans, have unique names–and we don’t mean Flipper.


How dolphins name themselves. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

[Sounds of dolphin whistles]

You’re listening to the dolphin equivalent of a name like Justin or Chelsea. This according to Vincent Janik of the Sea Mammal Research Unit at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. He and his colleagues found that bottlenose dolphins associate different whistles like these with specific individuals. They can recognize them even when they’re reproduced on computers, with the whistler’s unique vocal qualities stripped away. What’s more, Janik says the dolphins use them much like human names.

VINCENT JANIK (University of St. Andrews, Scotland):
So one context that we found, for example, that a dolphin can swim into a larger group and produce somebody else’s signature, and in that way effectively calling out for that animal and addressing that animal.

But whether dolphins use the whistles for gossip and name-dropping remains a mystery. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.