Male Bottlenose Dolphins Use "Names" To Identify Friends And Rivals

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Bottlenose dolphins tail walk backward (Photo Credit: Stewart Holmes CC by 2.0 via Flickr)

When it comes to brain power, bottlenose dolphins are second only to humans. The highly social animals are known to teach one another to tail walk, to help fellow dolphins in distress, and to even carefully prepare their food instead of instantly devouring it like most animals. Now, a new study indicates that male bottlenose dolphins maintain unique whistles, or ‘names,’ to enable them to recognize friends and rivals within their social group.

Previous research has shown that like many other creatures, including parrots, bats, elephants, and primates, dolphins develop an individual vocal call, or a signature whistle, within the first few months of their lives. However, animals form long-term alliances with other members of their species, they usually converge on a shared whistle to demonstrate their solidarity.

To investigate if the same was true for male bottlenose dolphins, who are known to form close alliances, marine biologist Stephanie King and her team recorded the signature whistles of 17 adult males, which made up six smaller groups within three larger dolphin communities in Western Australia’s Shark Bay. They then measured the similarity of these identifying signals, both within the dolphins’ most intimate group of friends and their larger networks. The analysis showed that even after developing strong bonds with other members, each dolphin retained a unique signature whistle that distinguished him from his mates. Related dolphins — those belonging to the same family — also maintained their own ‘names.’

Male bottlenose dolphins form strong alliances (Photo Credit

In the report published in the journal Current Biology on June 7, King stated, “Male bottlenose dolphins that form long-term cooperative partnerships or alliances with one another retain individual vocal labels, or ‘names,’ which allows them to recognize many different friends and rivals in their social network. 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.” The University of Western Australia professor believes that “retaining individual ‘names’ is more important than sharing calls for male dolphins, allowing them to keep track of or maintain a fascinating social network of cooperative relationships.”

However, this does not mean the Shark Bay dolphins don’t demonstrate love for their friends. In lieu of adopting a similar group call, these male dolphins express their bromance with tactics like synchronized swimming or by caressing, or slapping, each other, similar to how humans display affection.

The team next plans to investigate dolphin male alliances more closely to find out if some relationships are given more importance than others. One of the tests will be to play the recorded ‘names’ of the individual males to others and observe how each member responds to them in various settings. “It will be interesting to reveal whether all cooperative relationships within alliances are equal or not," said King. We wonder if female dolphins also have unique ‘names’ to recognize each other.


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  • choclateWednesday, January 23, 2019 at 12:29 pm
    So cool 😎
    • dolphins rockThursday, January 3, 2019 at 9:50 am
      I love dolphins!!!!! They are my favorite animal even though i never saw one in real life.
      • drdxrWednesday, December 12, 2018 at 9:08 am
        • Cupcakes Sunday, December 9, 2018 at 4:15 pm
          I ❤ Dolphins
          • samson Monday, December 3, 2018 at 11:19 am
            where did this happen
            • Cupcakes Monday, December 3, 2018 at 7:23 am
              I ❤️ Dolphin
              • Mr. fTuesday, November 27, 2018 at 11:26 am
                Good. I didn't know dolphin can communicate.
                • raindrop07
                  raindrop07Monday, November 26, 2018 at 6:44 am
                  Dolphins are just so smart! I love them so much and they blow me away at how well they comunicate with each other! Awesome!!
                  • thinnestice7896
                    thinnestice7896Saturday, November 24, 2018 at 9:34 pm
                    This kind of ironic that I love the sea, water and ice and cold stuff, but I can’t swim. Yeah. Sad right? Well atleast I can go to the beach and make sandcastles and whatever. Thank goodness I can do some things other people can’t. I feel bad for them, but they have their own pluses.
                    • thinnestice7896
                      thinnestice7896Saturday, November 24, 2018 at 9:32 pm
                      I love dolphins and some other sea creatures, but dolphins are adorable. Cephalopods are also smart with a plus of being able to spit ink, but aren’t as adorable as dolphins are. Knowing that sea creatures are this one big smarter gives me hope, hope that they might find better ways of doing and do it in a better way.

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