Study: Male bottlenose dolphins have names for each other

A new study of male bottleneck dolphins in Shark Bay, Australia discovers that each individual has his own distinctive name-whistle that other dolphins use when “talking” about him.

As far as we knew, we were the only species that identified individuals by name. A new study, however, finds that we’re not: Dolphins, or at least the bottlenose males of Shark Bay, Australia do it, too. We understood that dolphins were smart but this is still pretty wild. The team behind the study, just published in Current Biology, was led by research fellow Stephanie King of the University of Western Australia.


Bottlenose wingmen, or maybe “finmen”

Scientists have been studying Shark Bay bottlenoses for decades, and have discovered some fascinating things about how males form amazingly complex alliances to—as the new study puts it—“cooperate in the pursuit and defense of an important resource: access to females.” Two scientists in particular, Eric Patterson and Janet Mann of The Dolphin Alliance Project, have been responsible for a lot of the insights. As far back as 1987, they wrote:

”We discovered that males in pairs and trios cooperate to sequester and control the movement of ('herd') single oestrous females for periods lasting from less than 1 hour to several weeks."

At the time, they reported partnerships between duos and trios of dolphins—“first-order alliances”—and cooperation between multiple duos and trios, or “second-order alliances.” These clusters together herded females away from competing groups, and protect “their” females from other clusters, so there’s a lot going on.

Apparently, this teaming-up is guys-only: Female bottlenoses don’t organize in this manner.


(Credit: R. Maximiliane/Shutterstock)

In 2015, the scientists published ”Male dolphin alliances in Shark Bay: changing perspectives in a 30-year study" in which they report that such alliances can last decades, but can also shift. In addition, they observed a “superalliance” of 14 males were also participants in from 5 to 11 first-order relationships.

Talking dolphin talk

Prior to the new study, the assumption had been that individual dolphins may have their own sonic label—or name — only until they form alliances in adolescence, at which time they take on the group’s acoustic signature. The new research finds that this isn’t so and that each one has a name for life.

Dolphin vocalizations consist of three elements—modulated whistles, broadband clicks, and burst-pulsed noises—that they employ at various volumes, pitches, and timbres. The dolphin names appear to be expressed as whistles.

Though these sounds may seem similar to our ears, they’re not. “Each pulse that is produced by dolphins is different from another by its appearance in the time domain and by the set of spectral components in the frequency domain,” researcher Vyacheslav Ryabov told The Telegraph in 2016. Ryabov was talking to the paper about a recording he’d made of two dolphins, Yasha and Yana. When he realized that each was pausing and waiting—and listening?—for the other dolphin to finish before responding, Ryabox realized he was hearing an exchange, a conversation.

Name game

In the new study, scientists were able to identify the signature whistles of 17 adult males using acoustic localization—the location of the sounds relative to each dolphin—except for two whistles that were assigned to two males because they clearly didn’t belong to anyone else.


Each of the dolphins’ whistle sound waves, and in the center, a map of their alliances. ((King, et al)

In addition, 12 human judges were employed for registering similarities in whistles that might connote alliances, but “We detected no evidence of signature whistle convergence between cooperative partners in nested bottlenose dolphin (T. aduncus) alliances. Our results differ from prior research, which suggested that closely affiliated male dolphins produce similar signature whistles.” What this means is that if dolphins’ identifying whistles don’t signify an alliance, they likely represent the individuals themselves. Since they “retain individual vocal labels that are distinct from those of their allies” as relationships evolve, expand, and recede, these whistles seem to be their names, plain and simple.

Then there’s cetacean bromance, which seems also to be a thing. The study observed males swimming in sync, and exchanging friendly slaps like human teammates sharing high fives.

As King is heard to exclaim in a video accompanying the study, “This is the coolest thing ever.”


Tesla introduces new Model 3 at $45,000

The new version's battery has a shorter range and a price $4,000 lower than the previous starting price.

Tesla Model 3 (Photo: Tesla)
Technology & Innovation
  • Tesla's new version of the Model 3 costs $45,000 and can travel 260 miles on one charge.
  • The Model 3 is the best-selling luxury car in the U.S.
  • Tesla still has yet to introduce a fully self-driving car, even though it once offered the capability as an option to be installed at a future date.
Keep reading Show less

Are you a Boltzmann Brain? Why nothing in the Universe may be real

A mind-bending paradox questions the nature of reality.

Pixabay
Surprising Science
  • Boltzmann Brains are hypothetical disembodied entities with self-awareness.
  • It may be more likely for a Boltzmann Brain to come into existence than the whole Universe.
  • The idea highlights a paradox in thermodynamics.
Keep reading Show less
Mind & Brain
  • When it comes to educating, says Dr. Elizabeth Alexander, a brave failure is preferable to timid success.
  • Fostering an environment where one isn't afraid to fail is tantamount to learning.
  • Human beings are complicated and flawed. Working with those complications and flaws leads to true knowledge.
Keep reading Show less

What is kalsarikänni? The Finnish art of being "pantsdrunk"

Drinking home alone in your underwear just might be what you need to be as relaxed as the Finnish.

Big Think art department / Finnish tourism department
Personal Growth
  • Päntsdrunk is the latest trend to come out of Northern Europe and it involves drinking alone at home.
  • Finnish writer Miska Rantanen outlines the philosophy in his newest book titled: Pantsdrunk: Kalsarikanni: The Finnish Path to Relaxation.
  • Kalsarikänni is a word in Finnish that literally means "drinking at home and alone in your underwear."
Keep reading Show less

Yes, Mega Millions just passed $1 billion. What does that look like?

It's hard to imagine such a number. But these images will help you try.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Megamillions_tickets.jpg
News/Social

The Mega Millions lottery just passed $1 billion for tonight's drawing.

What does that even look like, when represented by various currencies?

It takes just 6 numbers to win. You can only, however, purchase tickets up until 10:45 ET tonight.

Keep reading Show less

The surprising psychology of sex with your ex

We all know sleeping with your ex is a bad idea, or is it?

Shutterstock
Sex & Relationships
  • In the first study of its kind, researchers have found sex with an ex didn't prevent people from getting over their relationship.
  • Instead of feeling worse about their breakup after a hookup, the new singles who attempted sexual contact with their ex reported feeling better afterwards.
  • The findings suggest that not every piece of relationship advice is to be taken at face value.
Keep reading Show less

Denmark has the flattest work hierarchy in the world

"It's about having employees that are empowered."

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash
popular

Denmark may be the birthplace of the Lego tower, but its workplace hierarchy is the flattest in the world.

According to the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report 2018, the nation tops an index measuring "willingness to delegate authority" at work, beating 139 other countries.

Keep reading Show less

Relationship hack: Why class clowns make better partners

Want a happy, satisfying relationship? Psychologists say the best way is to learn to take a joke.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
Sex & Relationships
  • New research looks at how partners' attitudes toward humor affects the overall quality of a relationship.
  • Out of the three basic types of people, people who love to be laughed at made for better partners.
  • Fine-tuning your sense of humor might be the secret to a healthy, happy, and committed relationship.
Keep reading Show less