What’s My Name Again?

By Joe Cross, Big Blue Scuba School, Cheshire

Did you know that Dolphins pick there own name and are potentially the only species apart from ourselves who are capable of hearing their name and responding to it? Now I know you might argue that a dog can do that, but when I call my dog Maggie she doesn’t respond by calling Maggie back and sometimes she doesn’t even respond at all but that’s a different story. 

From the age of 1-2 Dolphins come up with a unique sound known as a signature whistle. This whistle can be used to identify itself to other members of its pod or be used as a call to locate the dolphin who’s signature whistle they are calling. So how was this discovered?

The Research

Research undertaken first in captivity when researchers from St Andrews University in Scotland temporarily captured some bottlenose dolphins in Florida recorded signature whistles from each of the dolphins in the study. Once they had identified the signature whistle they were able to strip back the whistle to its core components. In Lehman’s terms they took out any accent form the recording. When the recording was then played back to the dolphins the dolphin who’s signature whistle it was, responded by seeking out the source of the whistle and calling back.

This experiment was then taken further in the wild. Research undertaken by the Sea Mammal Research Unit have been studying this in Scotland since 2003. They conducted the same experiment just in the dolphins habitat and found the same results being that the Dolphins respond to their whistle by calling back and track down the source of the sound.

So why do they do this?

Dolphins are found in a variety of habitats across the world form the Amazon Rainforest, Tropical waters of the Caribbean and the Temperate waters of the UK. Not all these habitats have crystal clear waters all year round so it is believed that Dolphins have used this extraordinary ability to understand a signature whistle as a way of keeping close together in their Pod Units even in zero visibility. 

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