Earlier research found that signature whistles are unique for each dolphin, with the marine mammals essentially naming themselves and communicating other basic information.
A signature dolphin whistle in human speak, might be comparable to, “Hi, I’m George, a large, three-year-old dolphin in good health who means you no harm.”
The latest study, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, is the first to show how free-ranging dolphins in the wild use these whistles at sea. The findings add to the growing body of evidence that dolphins possess one of the most sophisticated communication systems in the animal kingdom, perhaps even surpassing that of humans.”In my mind, the term ‘language’ describes the human communication system; it is specific to us,” co-author Vincent Janik of the University of St. Andrews Sea Mammal Research Unit, told Discovery News. “It is more fruitful to ask whether there are communication systems with similar complexity. I think the dolphin system is probably as complex as it gets among animals.”
Janik and colleague Nicola Quick studied how bottlenose dolphins in St. Andrews Bay, off the coast of northeast Scotland, communicate with each other. While in a small, quiet boat, the researchers followed the wild dolphins and recorded their vocalizations.
Analysis of the observations and recordings found that the dolphins usually swam together in a group moving slowly and relatively quietly.
“When another group approaches, usually one or more animals start to produce their signature whistles,” Janik said. “We then hear dolphins from the other group calling back with their own signatures, and after or during this counter-calling the animals get together as one group and continue swimming together. Shortly after the union of the groups, they become much more quiet again.”