Dolphin whistles are unfit for porpoise

Feb 29, 2012
An Atlantic bottlenose dolphin. Bottlenose dolphins have whistles which they use to exclusively greet other members of their species, marine biologists in Scotland reported on Wednesday.

Bottlenose dolphins have whistles which they use to exclusively greet other members of their species, marine biologists in Scotland reported on Wednesday.

Using hydrophones, the researchers made recordings of dolphins swimming in St. Andrews Bay, off the northeastern coast of Scotland, in the summers of 2003 and 2004.

When groups of dolphins met up, they swapped whistles that outwardly sounded the same.

But showed the whistles were in fact individual signatures, for they were never matched or copied by other dolphins.

"Signature whistle exchanges are a significant part of a greeting sequence that allows dolphins to identify conspecifics [members of the same species] when encountering them in the wild," says the study.

The whistles are clearly important, as they were heard in 90 percent of the joinups, says the paper.

One particular signal came from what appeared to be the leader of a group, seemingly giving the OK to fellow dolphins in the team to join up with the other group.

Other whistles could be about agreeing roles to hunt for food or identifying individuals for socialising. operate in a "fission-fusion" society, meaning they live in groups that are fluid in numbers.

The study, by Vincent Janik and Nicola Quick of the University of St. Andrews, appears in the British journal .

The discovery adds an intriguing footnote about the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), one of only very few species which can invent or copy noises.

Others are , , phocid seals and bats, but in these species, the learning trick is for reproduction, as it is the males who learn songs in order to attract females.

By using whistles for broadcasting identity and details of the environment, say the scientists, the dolphin shares similar skills with... the grey parrot.

Explore further: Honey bees sting Texas man about 1,000 times

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Dolphins use diplomacy in their communication

Jun 09, 2010

Until now, the scientific community had thought that whistles were the main sounds made by these mammals, and were unaware of the importance and use of burst-pulsed sounds. Researchers from the Bottlenose ...

Coastal dolphins quieter than thought

Nov 05, 2010

Dolphins are thought to be able to communicate with each other over vast expanses of ocean, between distances as far as 15 miles apart. Studies of dolphin whistles have suggested that they should carry that far in water, ...

Scientists reveal dolphins' diplomatic social behaviour

Jun 28, 2010

Scientists from the Bottlenose Dolphin Research Institute (BDRI) on the island of Sardinia off the coast of Italy have published the most complete repertoire ever of sounds made by bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops ...

Recommended for you

A tiny new species of frog from Brazil with a heroic name

6 hours ago

The Atlantic Forest is a hotspot of biodiversity and one of the most species richness biome of anurans (frogs, tree-frogs, and toads) in the world. However, current levels of diversity might be still underestimated. ...

User comments : 0