A recent study suggests dolphins have their own names and use these specific calls to get each other’s attention and make their presence known.
Published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the study says dolphins were observed calling each other by individual whistles. The dolphins use individual whistles to identify themselves to other dolphins, and dolphins use the whistle to call for the specific dolphin.
This is a noteworthy discovery as it indicates a behavior only thought to be exhibited by humans.
“Animals produced copies [of the unique whistles] when they were separated from a close associate and this supports our belief that dolphins copy another animal’s signature whistle when they want to reunite with that specific individual,” researcher Stephanie King said.
They conducted the study by researching audio recordings of wild dolphins in Sarasota Bay, Florida, which were recorded between 1984 and 2009. They also studied one specific group of captive dolphins. In the end, they found that all dolphins had exhibited the same behavior of developing and calling their own individual whistle and calling others by theirs.
The most “endearing” detail researchers learned was that dolphins used the signature sounds of the dolphins they spent the most time with, meaning that they often call for their closest friends.
“We found no evidence for the use of copying in aggression or deception,” the authors said. “This use of vocal copying is similar to its use in human language, where the maintenance of social bonds appears to be more important than the immediate defense of resources.”
This study, along with others, has many scientists thinking cetaceans should be called “non-human persons” with certain rights. One group of scientists in Helsinki have drafted a “Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans,” declaring that dolphins and whales should not be held captive and should be free to live in their natural environment.