Dolphins 'name' friends to recognize them

10 Juin, 2018, 07:12 | Auteur: Yves Courtet
  • Researchers also observed how male dolphins use physical contact to strengthen their relationships

Scientists at UZH, the University of Western Australia and the University of MA studied 17 adult bottlenose dolphins in Shark Bay in Western Australia. Within their population, male dolphins enter into complex, multi-level alliances ranging from intense, lifelong friendships to loose groups.

They found that males within an alliance use vocal labels that are quite distinct from one another, indicating that they serve a similar objective to names among humans. "Our work shows that these 'names" help males keep track of their many different relationships: who are their friends, who are their friend's friends, and who are their competitors".

Research from 1989 shows that female bottlenose dolphins maintain signature whistles or names for at least 12 years in the wild.

A trio of allied male bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) from Shark Bay, Western Australia.

"This is an unusual finding as it is very common for pairs or groups of animals to make their calls more similar when they share strong social bonds".

Such vocal convergence is found in many animals including parrots, songbirds, bats, elephants and primates.

Dolphins may be more akin to humans than believed, said a study released on Friday, confirming that the marine mammals use individual "names" to identify friends and rivals among social networks.

Dr King said while that was already known, researchers were interested in how those male dolphins were able to identify each other and work out who was a friend or foe.

Dolphins are intelligent creatures that communicate with high-frequency whistles and are capable of forming strong relationships.

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"However with male bottlenose dolphins, it's the opposite - each male retains a unique call, even though they develop incredibly strong bonds with one another".

Intriguingly, we found that male dolphins in Shark Bay retain individual vocal labels distinct from their allies. Most of the males in this study had signature whistles that were notably different from those of both first-order and second-order alliance partners.

In the new study, King and colleagues set out to better understand what role vocal communication plays in coordinating complex social behaviors, including cooperation, in bottlenose dolphins. However, they did not know how these males used vocal signals to form and maintain these relationships.

These dolphins aren't born with their own signature whistle.

Dr King said male dolphins also used physical displays to show off the strength of their relationships.

"So each male in their lives [has] a very different whistle or vocal label, and they can use this to track relationships".

"This included petting, stroking and performing synchronous behaviours as an alternative means of advertising their strong social bonds", Dr King said.

She said the next step would be to study the males' relationships with one another to understand the politics of dolphin alliances and if they were equal or not.

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