Dolphins can call each other through particular whistling sounds

Researchers found that the dolphins have excellent vocal mimicking abilities and this ability allows them to mimic each other’s particular whistles enabling them to call each other.

This research has been published online in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Bottlenose dolphins have their own particular high-pitch whistling sound noting “eeee”. This sound can tell the other dolphins about the presence of a particular dolphin. These name-like whistles by the dolphins were found about 50 years ago by the scientists.

Dolphins (Credit: Jason Allen; (Inset) Sunnie Hart; (Both Photos) Sarasota Dolphin Research Program/NMFS Permit #15543)

Now researchers have confirmed through the study of 179 pairs of wild bottlenose dolphins off the Florida coast, between 1988 and 2004 that they in fact call each other through particular imitating whistles, which can be considered as the “names” in human beings.

“There’s been some evidence before that dolphins are imitating each other’s whistles,” Richard Connor, a cetacean biologist at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, said in a statement. “But this is the first really convincing paper. It’s very exciting.”

Researchers have found that the dolphins copy the other’s whistle in almost similar frequency but the whistles either start with a high frequency or don’t last longer. This whistling sound has been found in pairs composed of a mother and her calf or adults, who are in search of some preys. Usually whistling happens when the pairs get separated from each other.

“A dolphin emits its signature whistle to broadcast its identity and announce its presence, allowing animals to identify one another over large distances and for animals to recognize one another and to join up with each other,” Stephanie King, a marine biologist also at the University of St. Andrews, explained. “Dolphin whistles can be detected up to 20 km away (12.4 miles) depending on water depth and whistle frequency.”

“It is fabulous,” added Karl Berg, an ornithologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who specializes in parrot calls. He noted that results of dolphin are “strikingly similar to recent work on parrots,” which mimic each other, sometimes about food decisions.


King, S., Sayigh, L., Wells, R., Fellner, W., & Janik, V. (2013). Vocal copying of individually distinctive signature whistles in bottlenose dolphins Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 280 (1757), 20130053-20130053 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2013.0053

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