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Look who's talkin'

Interesting news in a study thats in pre-publication in Ethology about mixed species schools of dolphins and the communication patterns that take place within them.  The author, Laura May-Collado of the University of Puerto Rico, hypothesised that when bottlenosed dolphins and Guyana dolphins school together, differences between their respective songs ought to be exaggerated in order to avoid confusion and enhance communication within species.  [Whales have been shown to alter their song to meet surrounding conditions, most recently in papers that describe long-term increases in song volume to offset the increasing background of human-made noise in the oceans.]  What she found was the exact opposite: calls became more homogeneous (with less variation between species), with the signal stucture (the waveform of the whistle as seen, for example, on an oscilloscope) converging on a form intermediate between the bottlenosed and Guyana whistles. Her first conclusion is that this represents a change on the part of the smaller Guyana dolphin to reduce social stress (placation, if you will) but its also possible that the dolphins might be using a common language.  If so, that would be one of the first examples of interspecies communication and it would be quite different from how humans do it, wherein one participant nearly always tries to change to the other participants language, not that boh participants find an intermediate language (I guess this is because human languages are too complex to easily invent intermediate forms).  Dr. May-Collado was unable to determine which explanation was the correct one because her equipment couldn’t distinguish which individuals were making the sounds, but its certainly a tantalizing view into the chatter that goes on between species in the ocean.

Guyana dolphin in front, bottlenosed behind. Click pic for original story


Reader Comments (2)

You haven't worked in the Canadian federal government: we speak Franglais, a back-and forth amalgam of sometimes French, sometimes English, sometimes both in the same sentence!
October 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJudith
Ha, I forgot about that! I have friends in the government up there and they do seem to speak funny old melange.

A couple I'm friends with (he French, she American) sort-of come and go depending on which language "says it best", but that came about after a long time together. Perhaps the dolphins have had long enough in each others company to do that. Honestly though, I suspect the researcher's first guess is right - that its the Guyana dolphin imitating the bottlenosed, in order to keep the peace and avoid getting its butt kicked!
October 2, 2010 | Registered CommenterAl Dove

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