According to researchers at the University of St. Andrews Sea Mammal Research Unit, bottlenose dolphins call out to each other by unique, individual names when separated.

Identifying with and using the names of others was thought to be unique to humans before this study; dolphins are now the only animal known to communicate by name.

Dolphin’s names may not be recognizable to human ears, but we have known for years now that each one has its own “signature whistle.”

“A dolphin emits its signature whistle to broadcast its identity and announce its presence,” according to head researcher Stephanie King, “allowing animals to identify one another over large distances and for animals to recognize one another and to join up with each other.”

This new study shows that dolphins do not just use their own “signature whistle,” they also copy the “signature whistle” of loved ones and use them to meet back up with each other when separated. This is incredibly effective, according to King, because “Dolphin whistles can be detected up to 20 km away (12.4 miles) depending on water depth and whistle frequency.”

The researchers say the dolphins are not simply mimicking the other dolphins’ whistles, the dolphins actually add a “tone of voice” to the whistles that is not found in the original identifier.

King and the other researchers at the University of St. Andrews Sea Mammal Research Unit are now using recording of dolphin’s whistles to see how wild dolphins respond to their own whistles.

Image courtesy Makuahine Pa'i Ki'i

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