Dolphins have “names” and use them to call to each other, scientists say. Using unique whistles and calls, dolphins can tell each other apart, even in big groups.
A new study by researchers from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland show more proof that dolphins are given or give themselves names, in a way.
Their research involved recording and playing back the unique calls to their dolphin, but changed to sound like a second dolphin is calling. Doing this caused a noticeable reaction from the marine animals, seemingly recognizing their names, BBC reports.
The dolphins were reported to call back to the recording. They also swam toward the speakers playing the call, as if expecting to find a friend.
Researcher Dr. Vincent Janik said that having special names within groups of dolphins is important. He says that dolphins live in waters far off the shore, an “environment where they need a very efficient system to stay in touch.”
Because they can’t see each other much of the time, using sound that carries well in water to talk is the best way to stay organized, Dr. Janik added. This is a method of “referential communication,” he says.
A similar study done earlier this year also found that dolphins separated in captivity would call the name of a friend by trying to copy their friend’s unique whistle, NPR says.
Researchers have also found that all bottle-nosed dolphins create their own unique call within their first few months of life.
These unique calls and whistles have been known about for many years, but this study is significant because it confirms hypotheses about their purpose.
The new study published Monday also adds further evidence of the deep complexity of dolphin social networks. Though they lack our upright walk and fancy thumbs, scientists are learning that they are more human-like than we knew. Like humans, dolphins also have proportionally large brains.
This is the first confirmed non-human animal to use unique ways of naming themselves. Some species of parrots are suspected of using similar identifying calls, however.
This discovery and further research into dolphin speak may help scientists better understand how and why humans evolved with advanced communication skills. It has long been believed that big brains evolved to deal with complex social networks; dolphin names show that they may have evolved in a similar way.