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Dolphins parallel human communication with use of distinct names

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dolphin (from NASA)
dolphin (from NASA)

Dolphins are known to use complex, human-like communication, and new research has pushed our understanding of that even further with the finding that some can even respond to individual names. Biologists at the University of St Andrews found that bottlenose dolphins create "signature whistles" for themselves that serve as an identifier. When a dolphin hears their whistle being called, it'll approach the source — be it another dolphin or a recreated recording. No dolphin would respond to a call that wasn't their own, allowing the team to determine that each whistle is only associated with a single dolphin.

The research team believes that this is the first discovery of naming capabilities in mammals. "Our results ... [provide] a clear parallel between dolphin and human communication," lead researcher Vincent Janik said in a statement. One of the stronger parallels is the possibility that bottlenose dolphins are actually learning how to communicate from others: the team found that each dolphin's whistle was composed of sounds that it picked up from its relatives, suggesting that their names weren't simply innate to their speech. The researchers' results will be published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week, and they hope that the work will assist other researchers in studying how naming and labeling works within animals.