Thursday 1 March 2012

Dolphins' Unique Whistles Say, 'Hey! Come Play!'

When meeting strangers in the wild, dolphins whistle signature tunes that may be the animal equivalent of "Hello, my name is…" stickers.

These signature whistles have been observed in captive dolphins for decades, but new research is the first to reveal how these sea mammals use the sounds when one pod meets another in the ocean. 

"It's not just 'I'm so-and-so,' but the other information also in that whistle is, 'I'm so-and-so, and I'm interested in making contact in a friendly way, I'm not attacking,'" said study researcher Vincent Janik, an expert in animal communication at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

Janik and his colleagues used special arrays of underwater microphones to follow bottlenose dolphin pods in St. Andrews Bay as they swam around and interacted with other groups of dolphins. They used a statistical method to tease out patterns in signature whistles (those whistles that dolphins develop as their personalized calling card) and differentiate those noises from the other chirps and squeaks dolphins produce.

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