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Dolphins Use High-Pitched Voices when Communicating with Their Young

By: Johanna Wu

Have you ever wondered why people usually use a high-pitched voice when talking to an infant? Scientists believe communicating in a high-pitched voice may help them learn to pronounce sounds. Communicating in a high-pitched voice is the same for a dolphin when talking to its calves.

A study that was published, found that female dolphins change their tone when addressing their calves. Dolphins use a unique whistle to communicate with other dolphins to tell one another where they are. “They use these whistles to keep track of each other. They’re periodically saying, ‘I’m here, I’m here’,” said the study’s co-author Laela Sayigh, a marine biologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.

When dolphins use this special whistle with their young, it comes out high-pitched, higher than usual, according to the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

To prove this claim, the team obtained data by placing special microphones multiple times on the same wild dolphin mothers in Florida’s Sarasota Bay to record their whistles. It took over three decades to obtain all the data they needed because they recorded the time the dolphins were with their babies who usually stay with their mothers for three years, and time without their offspring.

When the team analyzed the recordings, the recordings of their special whistle with their babies were higher than those without their young. “That was true for every one of the moms in the study, all 19 of them,” said biologist Peter Tyack, a study co-author from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

This discovery is fascinating to learn that dolphins use a high-pitched voice while talking to babies just like humans. Other animals also talk high-pitched to their young too. Female rhesus monkeys may alter their calls to attract and hold offspring’s attention. And Zebra finches elevate their pitch and slow down their songs to address chicks, perhaps making it easier to learn birdsong.

Scientists will continue to study why dolphins use high-pitched voices when talking to their young, but this discovery can help us learn more about animals and how we are similar to them.


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