Through a series of learned signals, dolphins are apparently able to communicate with each other in a more advanced way that many scientists previously believed was only possible between humans. According to new research out of the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, dolphins possess not only general signaling abilities, which allow them to find food or warn other dolphins about danger, but they also have the capacity to come up with distinct names for one another.
"Bottlenose dolphins develop their own unique identity signal," explains the study's abstract. "This whistle encodes individual identity independently of voice features. The copying of signature whistles may therefore allow animals to label or address one another."
Like humans, dolphins are able to learn and identify copies of their own unique signature whistles -- for humans, this would simply be one's spoken name -- as well as learn how to communicate the unique signature whistles of other dolphins. In essence, this unique ability allows dolphins to socialize with one another in a way that most other mammals besides humans appear unable to do.
"This study provides compelling evidence that a dolphin's learned identity signal is used as a label when addressing conspecifics," adds the report. "Bottlenose dolphins therefore appear to be unique as nonhuman mammals to use learned signals as individually specific labels for different social companions in their own natural communication system."
You can view the full study abstract here: http://www.pnas.org
This could be due to the fact that, like humans, dolphins have fairly large brains that take up about five percent of their overall body weight. Having a larger brain, it is hypothesized by some, could explain why dolphins are also able to learn human hand gestures, for instance, and plan ahead. Another study out of the University of Hawaii found that dolphins are capable of planning ahead and performing novel activities with one another.
"There is still much to learn about these flexible problem-solvers," explains a piece on dolphins published in BBC Wildlife Magazine. "[B]ut from the evidence so far, it seems that dolphins do indeed deserve their reputation for being highly intelligent."
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