Dolphins mimic calls of social group

24 February 2013

A team of marine biologists from the University of St Andrews studied the vocal signatures of bottlenose dolphins by analyzing recordings from wild and captive dolphins to identify which animals copy one another's signature whistle. The new study suggests that in fact dolphins are mimicking those they are close to and want to see again.

Bottlenose dolphins are one of the very few species that use vocal learning to develop their own vocal signature early in life. Each dolphin produces its own unique signature whistle that describes its individual identity.

The copying of signature whistles has been noted in previous studies, but scientists have been unsure whether it is an aggressive or friendly signal. Dolphins mimic the distinct whistles of their closest companions as a way of tracking them, according to researchers. The study also found that dolphins introduce slight changes into copies, avoiding confusion for the listener.

While vocal mimicking is found in other animals like songbirds, the team believes dolphin calls offer an insight into the way complex language structures evolve.

 

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