Cetacean Esperanto: New Finding Indicates That Dolphins And Orcas Might Be Able To Communicate With Each Other

Please follow and like us:
Pin Share

In a recently published study Laura J. May-Collado hypothesizes that two distantly related species of dolphins may be able to communicate with each other under certain circumstances. If this does turn out to be the case, it is an easy leap to think that the Southern Resident orcas may have developed a similar ability; a dolphin Esperanto of sorts that bridges the difference between them and the various dolphin species that share their environment. And it will go a heck of a long way towards explaining the how and why small porpoises and dolphins know they are safe with the fish-eating resident orcas. (Southern Resident Orcas And Dolphins Interact Together In The Wild: Is It Play?)

Dolphins and porpoises are occasionally seen swimming unharmed with Southern Resident orcas (Photo by Jim Maya).

But here is the caution: this is all highly speculative at the moment, a fact that the study’s author addresses. Due to the limitations at that time, it wasn’t possible to determine which animals made which sounds, nor to be sure of the context under which the behavior occurred. This is to be expected of initial findings, or any time there is what is called a “pilot study” in which researchers first try to get a handle on what is going on. More controlled and detailed studies will no doubt follow on the heels of this one, to substantiate or refute these findings:

Abstract (Changes in Whistle Structure of Two Dolphin Species During Interspecific Associations)

Dolphin communicative signals show great plasticity. Dolphins modify signal structure to cope with their environment, in response to stress, and in some species to mimic group members. Hence, whistle structure variations may offer insights to interspecific associations among dolphin species, which although temporal and opportunistic are common.

In this study, I test the hypothesis that interspecific interactions influence dolphin whistle structure, particularly during social events. The study took place in the Southern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, where interspecific associations of the distantly related Guyana and Bottlenose dolphins occur on daily basis.

The results indicate that interspecific groups emit whistles that show intermediate whistle structure compared to whistles emitted in intraspecific groups. This pattern is seen during social interactions between species, but not when interspecific groups are traveling.

Social events in interspecific groups were of antagonistic nature, where Bottlenose dolphins isolated and harassed one or two Guyana dolphins. Contour data suggest that the most vocal species during these encounters was the Guyana dolphin. Therefore, the observed modifications in whistles structure likely reflect a stress response by the Guyana dolphins. Another alternative explanation includes signal convergence between interacting species. However, to understand the nature of these potential modifications, future studies should combine acoustic tags and directional recording systems to follow the vocalizing animals.

Despite the shortcomings of this study, it provides some of the first insights into dolphin interspecific communication, providing evidence of overall signal change during interspecific interactions.

That cetaceans may have this ability comes to no surprise – think of what parrots can do – but what makes this such an important finding is that it may open a door to understanding the mysterious communication of the bright and social whales and dolphins.

Please follow and like us:
Pin Share

Leave a Reply