NEWS

Dolphin Names: Signature Whistles Suggest Animals Greet Each Other

07/23/2013 11:29 EDT | Updated 07/23/2013 11:32 EDT

Chalk up another accolade for the talented Mr. Flipper.

A new study suggests dolphins not only use a "unique signature whistle" to call each other by name, but when called, they actually respond to it.

Building on earlier research on dolphin whistless, the latest research from Scotland’s University of St. Andrews, may be "the first case of naming in mammals, providing a clear parallel between dolphin and human communication,” one of the study authors, biologist Stephanie King said in Wired.

The new findings are “clearly a landmark,” biologist Shane Gero of Dalhousie University told Wired. “I think this study puts to bed the argument of whether signature whistles are truly signatures.”

The study, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, notes 'this whistle encodes individual identity independently of voice features. The copying of signature whistles may therefore allow animals to label or address one another."

It's a fascinating behavioural trait for an animal that has already been observed preparing their food, lending a hand to other animals in trouble and even showing signs that they can do math.

Indeed, dolphins were even spotted earlier this year, building a raft for an ailing member of their pod.

It makes sense then, that such intensely social animals should know each other by name.

"It's a wonderful study, really solid," British marine biologist Peter Tyack told National Geographic. "Having the ability to learn another individual's name is … not what most animals do. Monkeys have food calls and calls that identify predators, but these are inherited, not learned sounds."

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