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Individual dolphins identify themselves to new dolphins they meet

Here in the BoingBoing newsroom, we are dedicated to keeping you informed on the latest developments in cetacean friendship. You already know that dolphins and whales hang out and, in fact, play together

Now, some more awesome news: Dolphins apparently have a system of identifying themselves to each other similar to the way you and I use names.

Scientists have actually known since the 1960s that this system existed. Basically, each dolphin creates their own "signature" whistle when they're very young. In studies of captive dolphins, they used this whistle mainly when they got separated from the rest of the group. It was like a way of saying, "Hey, I'm over here!" Or, given the environment, perhaps some version of "Marco! Polo!"

But at Not Exactly Rocket Science, Ed Yong writes about a new study of wild dolphins that has really increased our understanding of signature whistles and how dolphins use them.

Quick and Janik recorded the calls of swimming dolphin pods using underwater microphones. From 11 such recordings, they worked out that dolphin groups use their signature whistles in greeting rituals, when two groups meet and join. Only 10 per cent of such unions happen without any signature whistles. And the dolphins use their signatures nine times more often during these interactions than during normal social contact. The signature whistles clearly aren’t contact calls, because dolphins hardly ever use them within their own groups. Mothers and calves, for example, didn’t exchange signature whistles when travelling together. And they’re not confrontational claims over territory, because bottlenose dolphins don’t have territories.

Instead, Janik thinks that dolphins use the whistles to identify themselves, and to negotiate a new encounter. The human equivalent would be saying, “My name is Ed. I come in peace.”

Quick and Janik also found that the dolphins don’t mimic each other’s signatures when they meet up. Justin Gregg from the Dolphin Communication Project says, “In other words, dolphins are not shouting out “Hey there Jerry” to each other, they are saying “it’s me, Tim!” He adds, “We really have no idea when or why they use these whistles. This study has uncovered a brand new function for the signature whistle, which makes it rather exciting. They appear to be identifying themselves to social partners after a prolonged separation.”

Read the rest at Not Exactly Rocket Science

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Image: Dolphins, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from hassanrafeek's photostream

An update in very important whale/dolphin friendship news

You guys! Remember yesterday, when we learned that dolphins and whales in Hawaii have twice been caught spontaneously playing together? Apparently, this gets better. Dolphins in a French aquarium seem to be "speaking" whale—making whale-sounding noises at night that mimic the actual whale noises they hear all day on the soundtrack to the aquarium dolphin show they perform in. These dolphins have never met real whales. But dolphins are known mimics and it seems that they're capable of practicing and improving on mimicked sounds hours after the sound has gone away. (Via Mindy Weisberger) Maggie

What friends are for: making Simpsons humor real


A grief-stricken Redditor asked by a friend if there was anything he needed quoted the Simpson's episode in which Barney's Japanese girlfriend requests "A single plum, floating in perfume, served in a man's hat." The friend obliged.

My grandma died, and a good friend asked: "Is there anything you need?" As a joke, I said: "A single plum, floating in perfume, served in a man's hat." The next day: (imgur.com)