Are Dolphins Trying to Communicate Across the Species Barrier?
Every time I see a row of seaside lampposts, each with a single seagull perched on it, I wonder: Do those birds think we built the highway system for them? I suspect the answer's yes. Each species of animal (like people, most of the time) seems to see the world as if it were made for them alone. Other species are mere objects: this one would be good for lunch, that one's an information source (think canary in the coal mine), these others are just obstacles in our way (think geese in the engines). This paper in the current issue of Ethology reports an interesting exception to the rule: Two species of dolphins which, when they swim together, replace their usual vocalizations with sounds that seem to fall halfway between their separate "languages."
Laura May-Collado's paper, which describes recordings made at the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge off the coast of Costa Rica, can't spell out whether the "intermediate" sounds are coming from both bottlenose and Guyana dolphins when the two types swim together. (Her equipment, as reported here, recorded the changed vocalizations, but didn't have a way of identifying which particular animals were making the sounds). But Guyana dolphins are smaller than bottlenose and get pushed around when the two species swim together, so, May-Collado speculated in a BBC interview, perhaps the Guyanas are trying to ward off or threaten the bullies by coming as close as they can to making sounds the others recognize.
Other scenarios are possible, though. Perhaps both species are making the compromise whistles, whose range and frequency fall between the characteristics of the calls they make when they're with their own kind. Or perhaps the Guyana, when "talking" to each other about the strangers, imitate them.
None of this is proof that the dolphins are aware that another species consists of creatures that are just as real as they are. But it does look to be an interesting exception to the Earth's usual species solipsism.
May-Collado, L. (2010). Changes in Whistle Structure of Two Dolphin Species During Interspecific Associations Ethology, 116 (11), 1065-1074 DOI: 10.1111/j.1439-0310.2010.01828.x
Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.
- Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
- At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
- Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Can sensitive coral reefs survive another human generation?
- Coral reefs may not be able to survive another human decade because of the environmental stress we have placed on them, says author David Wallace-Wells. He posits that without meaningful changes to policies, the trend of them dying out, even in light of recent advances, will continue.
- The World Wildlife Fund says that 60 percent of all vertebrate mammals have died since just 1970. On top of this, recent studies suggest that insect populations may have fallen by as much as 75 percent over the last few decades.
- If it were not for our oceans, the planet would probably be already several degrees warmer than it is today due to the emissions we've expelled into the atmosphere.
They didn't know it, but the rituals of Iron Age Scandinavians turned their iron into steel.
- Iron Age Scandinavians only had access to poor quality iron, which put them at a tactical disadvantage against their neighbors.
- To strengthen their swords, smiths used the bones of their dead ancestors and animals, hoping to transfer the spirit into their blades.
- They couldn't have known that in so doing, they actually were forging a rudimentary form of steel.
Michael Dowling, Northwell Health's CEO, believes we're entering the age of smart medicine.
- The United States health care system has much room for improvement, and big tech may be laying the foundation for those improvements.
- Technological progress in medicine is coming from two fronts: medical technology and information technology.
- As information technology develops, patients will become active participants in their health care, and value-based care may become a reality.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.