back to article Boffins: Dolphins call each other NAMES. Not RUDE ones!

Boffins have piled on yet more evidence that dolphins call each other by name when they whistle to each other. Dolphins play in the water Scientists have reckoned for some time that dolphins have a unique whistle that acts as a distinctive name. Research by marine biologists Stephanie King and Vincent Janik from the …


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  1. bonkers

    to see if the named fish responded?

    The dolphin is not a fish.

    It's an insect.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: to see if the named fish responded?

      Dolphin1: Oi, fish, get over here!

      Dolphin2: Fish? Who you calling fish, dung-beetle?

      Dolphin1: Dung-beetle?! Come over here and say that!

      Researcher, poring over statistical analysis of squeaks and squonks: Oo, oo, two more names - D1's called "fish" and D2's called "dung-beetle" !

      1. TheDillinquent
        Paris Hilton

        Re: to see if the named fish responded?

        "Dung Beetle"? Do they have dung beetles in the sea?

    2. Chris Collins

      Re: to see if the named fish responded?

      If it lives in the sea, it's a fish. No exceptions.

      1. Steve Todd

        Re: to see if the named fish responded?

        "If it lives in the sea, it's a fish."

        Seaweed is a fish? Plankton? Crabs? I think you're going to have to rethink that rule.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: to see if the named fish responded?

          Chondrichthyes - sharks/rays are fish

          Osteichthyes - ray finned fish are fish

          Agnatha - lampreys are fish

          Hagfish and Echinoderms ( starfish ) aren't even Cordata and they are fish

          Don't see why a mammal can't be a fish

          1. wowfood

            Re: to see if the named fish responded?

            All fish have gills

            All fish lay eggs

            Dolphins do neither.

            Dolphins aren't fish.

            1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

              Re: to see if the named fish responded?

              >All fish have gills

              >All fish lay eggs

              So salamanders and axolotls are fish?

              1. Grey Bird

                Re: to see if the named fish responded?

                No that's not right. According to your reasoning:

                All humans are mammals.

                All dolphins are mammals.

                All dolphins are fish.

                Therefore, all humans are fish.


                All oranges are fruit, therefore all fruit are oranges.

          2. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

            Re: to see if the named fish responded?

            "Don't see why a mammal can't be a fish"

            Because it's a mammal?

            "All fish lay eggs"

            Some fish is live-bearing (though technically they still lay eggs, only inside themselves).

            1. Khaptain

              Re: to see if the named fish responded?


              For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much — the wheel, New York, wars and so on — whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time.

              But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man — for precisely the same reasons.

              The last ever dolphin message was misinterpreted as a surprisingly sophisticated attempt to do a double-backwards-somersault through a hoop whilst whistling the 'Star Spangled Banner', but in fact the message was this: So long and thanks for all the fish.


              Douglas Adams knew a long time ago that Dolphins were very special.......

            2. Frumious Bandersnatch

              Re: to see if the named fish responded?

              Whoa... can't you all see the OP is just trolling on porpoise?

            3. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

              Re: to see if the named fish responded?

              >Because it's a mammal?

              Mammal is a class, there are at least 6 classes that are fish.

              Some also have members that live on land so a mammal that lives in water can be a fish

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: to see if the named fish responded?

        "If it lives in the sea, it's a fish. No exceptions."

        I like it!

        Also: it's obviously not tomorrow until I've gone to bed and woken up again. Shut up about midnight already.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Or Not

    Not in 2006, not in 2013:

    1. Raggs

      Re: Or Not

      Not sure that article actually discredits it that well actually...

      Just because humans don't yell back their own name in the street doesn't mean there are no similar situations, when calling we often ask "Is that Robert speaking." "This is Robert". On letters we usually open Dear Harry, and give our own names to sign off.

      It's not quite the same as playing a dog back it's own bark, they aren't playing back the noise that a dolphin made, but a whistle unique to them, that is used by others! And no one else responds. It's very much like getting a lot of dogs together and yelling Fido, and only Fido running up to you.

      A lot of animals can understand the concept of a name referring to them. That dolphins appear to have developed the skill amongst themselves really wouldn't be that surprising to me, especially considering how much they communicate, and the degree of organisation they often have when hunting.

      They may not use it to refer to absent parties, but if they use it to gain the attention of a very particular animal (which seems to be it's exact purpose) then that's a name in my mind.

      1. LudwigW

        Re: Or Not

        There are certainly similar situations, but they all presume full language competency is already there.

        But imagine if someone only ever answered when their name was called by echoing it. We'd think them deranged or deficient somehow, wouldn't we? Then imagine that everyone was like that. We just call out our names, and maybe, very occasionally, call out someone else's, and when we hear our own name we just repeat it. Then we'd be just like the dolphins. Nothing wrong with that. Quite useful, really. We could keep track of one another, the point being here that we'd recognize that names refer, to ourselves and some others. Mothers would be able to locate their offspring in distress, for example (baboon mothers can't do that, but we still think they're pretty smart).

        Having a signature call for yourself, along with a small set of signal calls is one thing. Intentionally calling another to gain their attention or to summon them is quite another. When Tarzan gets from "Me Tarzan" to "You Jane" he's jumped into language, and then the medium is bound to expand: Who? Yes, No, and so on. I see no sign at all that dolphins have crossed that Tarzan threshold.

  3. BrowserUk


    I wonder (who gives them | how they adopt) their name?

    Presumably when they are first born they tend to make random vocalisations like any kid.

    At some point, their friends or family (probably their mother), and they, must 'agree' on some sequence that becomes their 'name'.

    One can speculate 3 possibilities:

    1) Over time, they begin to repeat one of their random sequences -- perhaps because it is pleasing to them; or because mother seems to respond to it? -- and thus they effectively name themselves.

    But if baby starts copying (and appears to be choosing) one of the sequences already used by another member of the pod; maybe that other member admonishes the baby.

    2) Mother constantly repeats a sequence she chooses -- perhaps whilst permitting the baby to suckle -- and so the baby come to recognise that sequence as being him/her and starts responding to it by repeating it. Thus mother chooses the name.

    Mother would know the names of the rest of the pod and so could chose (or choose to reinforce) a sequence not (currently) in use.

    3) Some combination of the two where either the mother starts repeating (and perhaps extending) one of the babies random sequences; or the baby starts repeating (and perhaps extending) one of the mother's sequences.

    It would be interesting to learn if:

    a) names get reused within a pod -- mother's mother or father's father etc.

    b) if the same names turn up in different pods.

  4. ColonelClaw
    Thumb Up

    Not surprised

    Nothing surprises we about dolphins any more, they are incredible animals. And beautiful, too. Having been up close with a pack of about 50 in a motorised dinghy down near the Cape of Good Hope, I can tell you first hand that their behaviour is almost human (in a fishy kind of way).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not surprised

      "I can tell you first hand that their behaviour is almost human (in a fishy kind of way)."

      What? You think the dolphins are up to something, eh?

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "The first case of naming in mammals"?!

    What the hell do they think humans have been doing all these years?

  6. Captain DaFt


    'Oy! Whistle-squeak-whistle! Get your ass over here'

    Dolphins have asses? Or was that just a fluke?

  7. Evil Auditor

    Yes, yes. But what about lasers mounted to their heads?

  8. Michael Hoffmann

    Man/dolphin/chimp the Streaker

    And here I was hoping they'd determine the dolphins speak in Trinary and I could get my job app in for the Uplift Institute.

    1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

      Re: Man/dolphin/chimp the Streaker

      * Rejoice (fin-folk).

      Fin's whistle has been learned (barely).

      To human patron's call - respond *

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Doing better than Bill and Katie

    At the time of posting this they've still not managed to find a name for their sprog.

  10. Allan George Dyer Silver badge

    So many puns here...

    I can tell you're having a whale of a time.

  11. LudwigW

    Media hype of very inconclusive science

    The media had a field day on this yesterday, falling over themselves in amazement that scientists had discovered that dolphins "call each other by name" and even engage in "conversation."

    No surprise there, of course, and I'm sure the scientists loved the attention. It's a great story. But it really helps to read what the boffins actually wrote.

    Contrary to what the article on this site asserts, King and Janik did not follow "groups of wild dolphins and record them whistling each others' names." Rather, using a not entirely reliable signature whistle identification method (SIGID), they recorded the signature whistles of individual bottlenose dolphins, and then played those whistles or control whistles of unfamiliar animals back to the dolphins to see what response they would get.

    The authors confess that they " were unable to identify which animal in the group replied to the playback," partly due to the limitations of their technology. In just two cases a dolphin in the pod gave an unambiguous "echo" answer, but they weren't to know whether the dolphins that did this were calling their own names or those of others. However, they say the latter possibility is unlikely since it is very rare for dolphins to copy the signature whistles of others. They add that "the fact that a signature whistle is primarily used by the whistle owner allows it to serve as a label for that particular individual when copied."

    If all that dolphins generally do is announce their presence to others and recognize the calls of others we must allow that they communicate (but we knew that already). Dolphins have a limited repertoire of nonsignature calls. Thus any claim that dolphins have conversations, even to the extent of calling each other by name, is counterintuitive, to say the least. If they do indeed call each other that fact alone should have kick started a great deal more language.

  12. Martin Budden
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