May
23
2006

Say My Name; Say My Name: Dolphins Create Their Own Monikers


What's my name?: Researchers have found out that dolphins create their own series of clicks and whistles to identify themselves much like the names we give ourselves. (Photo by sandor at morguefile.com)
You’ve got your Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse and Rocky the Squirrel. How about Diane the Dolphin?

The May edition of National Geographic reports that marine biologists have discovered that dolphins give themselves a unique name to identify themselves among their peers. It might not sound like our first names such as “Bob” or “Lisa,” but rather is a unique combination of whistles and clicks that single them out among the other dolphins in their group.

So how do scientists know this for sure? Afterall, there aren’t any humans who can speak dolphin, right?

The idea that dolphins have their own unique sounds for their name dates back in theory to 1991. But only recently have researchers been able to test out those ideas.

What they’ve done is take audio recordings of dolphin sounds collected over the past 30 years. Focusing their efforts on bottle-nosed dolphins found around Sarasota, Fla., researchers mimicked those recorded sounds with sounds made through keyboard synthesizers and then played back that new audio to the dolphins through underwater speakers.

What they discovered was that the Florida dolphins responded strongly to the sounds that were copies of sounds from other dolphins in their group and largely ignored the sound patterns from unfamiliar dolphins.

Furthermore, researchers also believe that young dolphins begin honing their listening skills, and developing their own unique vocal identification, early in life. It’s an especially important skill for bottle-nose dolphins since they live in large packs in sometimes murky waters. With a much more advanced social structure than other types of animals, dolphins may need to have better ways of finding each other when their separated.

Other interesting twists to the dolphin naming practices:

• Male dolphins are likely to choose a pattern of sound that is similar to their mother’s name sound.
• Dolphins love their names. Researchers have determined that they’ll say their names a lot when communicating with other dolphins, for instance saying “Diane caught a fish.”
• Other dolphins will mimic a peer’s name sound patterns to get that dolphin’s attention.

More information about dolphin naming practices can be found at http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/05/060508_dolphins.html

And for all you football fans reading this, there’s no word in the research if any new dolphins have taken the name Daunte.

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