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Dolphins Have Different Ways of Talking, from “Baby Talk” to “Adult Talk”

By: Bowen Wang

Squeak Squeak Squeak and Click Click Click are very different sounds. Bottlenose dolphins are unique creatures, and have many ways of communicating through a series of clicking and whistling sounds. Each dolphin contains their own unique vocal pitch that allows others to recognize who is who -- just like humans where some people have low voices, and others have high.

Bottlenose dolphins are aquatic mammals in the Animalia Kingdom. They are common, cosmopolitan members of the Delphinidae family, a family of oceanic dolphins. Molecular studies show that the genus definitively contains two species: the common bottlenose dolphin and the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin. Bottlenose dolphins inhabit warm-temperature and temperate seas worldwide. They are found everywhere except for the Arctic and Antarctic Circle regions, meaning they prefer warm water instead of cold. Their name derives from the Latin tursio (dolphin) and truncatus for their characteristic truncated teeth.

Studies show that dolphins talk to their young in a different way than to other dolphins, like “baby talk” for humans, helping their young recognize when they are being talked to. Dolphin mothers use a high-pitched baby talk when communicating with their young. A study published found out that female bottlenose dolphins change their tone when addressing their calves rather than use the same pitch that they use when talking to grown-ups.

Researchers recorded the signature whistles of 19 mother dolphins in Florida, both when they were accompanied by their young calves and when they were swimming alone or accompanied by other adults. A signature whistle is an important feature of a dolphin which can help other dolphins recognize specific other dolphins. Obtaining the data to prove the impact of a signature whistle was no simple job. There were many obstacles, including the time it took to collect the sounds and even identifying the exact dolphin making the sounds. During the time frame of more than 30 years, scientists placed special microphones on wild dolphin mothers living in Florida to test and record their signature whistles. Although were times during the 30 years that the mothers had calves, because calves usually stay with mothers for only 3 years in Florida, these mothers usually did not have young dolphins.

Bottlenose dolphins are very unique animals and have many ways of talking to each other through a series of clicking sounds, whistling sounds, and nonverbal gestures. Every dolphin contains their own unique vocal pitch, also known as a signature whistle, which can allow other dolphins to recognize who is who just like humans, with some people who have low voices, and some voices who have high. They talk to babies in a different way than to adults just like humans. Overall, dolphins are a lot like humans.

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