Video shot in Shark Bay, Australia, shows something incredible: dolphins are calling each other by name.
The video is seen from the point of view of scientists observing a group of adult male dolphins gliding through the clear blue waters.
“This is the coolest thing ever,” study co-author Stephanie King, Ph.D., can be heard saying in the video (above). Her excitement is palpable, but what exactly is she so jazzed about?
What is so unmistakably cool to King is that she can hear every adult male dolphin’s individual voice label, each a distinct series of whirling clicks, buzzes, and high-frequency whizzes. In a study published this month in Current Biology, King, a research fellow at the University of Western Australia, and her team report that bottlenose dolphins are adept at producing sounds and use these skills to develop their own signature whistles in the early stages of their life.
It’s been theorized that once mature male dolphins team up with a small alliance — they squad up, to borrow a phrase from Fortnite — they ditch their individual “names” and share the same distinct whistle.
It appears that dolphins share a similar social trait with humans: They also have names they keep for the duration of their lives. Similarly to humans, the researchers also discovered that male dolphins create social bonds by exhibiting physical gestures like synchronized behavior, caressing, and slapping — which is kind of like when athletes give each other a good, affirmative butt slap.
These alliance groups are long-standing and are formed mainly to help each other get access to females. They’re also tiered with first-order and second-order alliances, just like BFFs or the people you only hang out with because they have a Nintendo Switch.
The Shark Bay alliance groups have been under observation by scientists for over 10 years now, which helped the team of researchers identify each individual dolphin in the study. By using underwater microphones to create recordings of the dolphins’ whistles, they were able to distinguish each signature sound.
The scientists conclude this impressive and intricate form of communication between the dolphins “may be a feature of the kind of social cognition required for the formation of social alliances, facilitating both partner choice and the execution of coordinator behaviors.” Which is further proof that dolphins are ridiculously smart mammals with really only one discernible disadvantage: no opposable thumbs. Mahalo, you geniuses of the sea!
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