Scientists working from the Karadag Nature Reserve in the Black Sea discovered something extraordinary after recording two dolphins, Yasha and Yana. Specifically, Yasha and Yana seemed to be having a full-blown conversation — something scientists had never before observed.
In a recent paper, researcher Vyacheslav Ryabov explains that the volume and frequency of dolphin clicks can be interpreted as different words. This is something that scientist have suspected for a while — it’s known that dolphins use three types of acoustic signals (modulated whistles, broadband clicks, and burst pulsed sounds) to convey information about location, identity, and the motivation of the whistler. These vocalizations suggest that dolphins can work together to solve a cooperative task, but it wasn’t so obvious whether or not the interaction could be considered a conversation, per se.
The eureka moment comes down to the pauses. Because the bottlenose dolphins waited for each other to reply, Ryabov believes that their communication can be interpreted as a highly developed spoken language with design features that indicate a high level of intelligence.
“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,” Ryabov told The Telegraph. “In this regard, we can assume that each pulse represents a phoneme or a word of the dolphin’s spoken language.”
Ryabov’s discovery is part of a surge of science emerging from the field of animal communication. Because of advancements in information-processing tools and monitoring devices, researchers have unprecedented access to data. Ryabov told The Telegraph that he hopes his discovery may eventually lead to the creation of a device that will allow dolphins and people to actually understand each other. This breakthrough hasn’t happened yet, but scientists besides Ryabov are fairly confident it will happen in the future.