What’s in a Name?

Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins

Many of the animals found on our planet are indeed quite social.  Living in groups has fueled the evolution of intelligence in many different species.   Animals aren’t just smart. They’re members of organized communities.

Dolphins spend almost all their time in family centered communities, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that they have a signature whistle for each other. Researchers, in a study found here , have discovered that dolphins have vocal signature names and they use them to identify and refer to one another. To test this, researchers used the sounds of names played back to dolphins who responded to their own signatures, but ignored others’—perhaps like we may behave when hearing our name read from a list.

What goes on in a dolphin’s mind upon hearing its signature name? That’s a harder question to answer. They may serve purely as identifiers eliciting little more than classification. There could also be layers of association along with those names, much like it is for us, with names associated with feelings and memories from personal interaction. Science doesn’t know for sure, but it’s getting closer to finding out.  In a study found here and here , the use of AI has identified several specific associations within vocalizations of these whales.

Dolphins engage in relationships that span decades, so it’s not hard to imagine that their names could be much more than just a label—much like us. 🐬

Nicole Reggia