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Riled Up is a journal of science, the environment, exploration, new technology, and related commentary.  Contributors include scientists, explorers, engineers, and others who provide perspectives and context not typically offered in general news circulation.  For interested readers, additional resources are included.

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Hi, my name is Click, Whistle, Pop
Hugh Bollinger

Hi, my name is Click, Whistle, Pop


Bottlenose Dolphin (credit: St. Andrews University, Scotland)


Animal communications are generating considerable interest. Marine mammals, including whales and dolphins, use distinct sonic clicks, whistles, pops, and other vocalizations that can be heard above and below water. What are they saying? Research has provided showed initial results considered essential to animal self-recognition and communication. A scientific paper: Bottlenose dolphins can use learned vocal labels to address each other has deciphered the first "word" translations.

Biologists at St. Andrews University in Scotland applied a technique to identify specific whistles using criteria, such as the tendency of sounds to be repetitive and remain constant over time. The researchers then matched the sounds to individual dolphins like  signatures. According to the University:

"In animal communication, vocal labeling refers to incidents in which an animal consistently uses a specific acoustic signal when presented with a specific object or class of objects. Labeling with learned signals is a foundation of human language but is notably rare in nonhuman communication."

The dolphins were discovered to call out specific "names" when separated from their pod and are the only mammals besides humans known to do this. Also, when a recording of their own whistles were re-played underwater, each dolphins responded immediately to their signature vocalization.
A marine biologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution who was not part of the St. Andrews team said:

"a big question is whether dolphins use whistles in the way we use words but this is the first example we have of naming being used in the animal kingdom.”

To finally begin decoding communications of other mammals is very exciting and more words will likely follow.


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