Scientists believe they have uncovered a new, interesting piece of animal behavior. From extensive vocal analysis, researchers determined that dolphins can call each other by name. According to a lead researcher, Randall Wells, “They’re abstract names, which is unheard of in the animal kingdom beyond people…Each dolphin produces its own unique signature whistle that describes its individual identity…The new study suggests that in fact dolphins are mimicking those they are close to and want to see again.” This “whistle copying” behavior is not exhibited frequently or by dolphins that randomly interact in the wild. Because of the distinctive nature of each dolphin’s signature whistle, the whistles cannot be mimicked unless the dolphin has had experience with the originator. If you follow the link listed within the article, you can listen to examples of dolphins whistle copying. The linked article also elaborates on future research, which will involve exposing dolphins to their own sound playbacks and monitoring their behavior.
We all know dolphins are one of the more intelligent species in the world, but this article shows that they also have somewhat of a self-awareness. Some people don’t give too much credit to animals, but research is constantly showing that animals have more complex behaviors and social structures than we realize. This new research elevated dolphin communication to the closest thing to human language. This discovery also relates to my previous blog about human language, and the possibility of language evolving from a combination of bird songs and perhaps primate communication. Even though dolphin communication mirrors human language more closely, it is probably still more likely human language developed from land creatures. I don’t see early humans spending excessive amounts of time underwater listening to dolphins. Consequently, this makes the dolphin language discovery all the more amazing because they developed a naming system on their own. Since we can’t figure out exactly how humans formed language, it’s difficult to say how dolphins did, but maybe they also pulled from other animal communications in their environment.