Female bottlenose dolphins have been found to change the tone of their whistles when bonding with their young.
We didn't really need another reason to absolutely adore dolphins but here's one anyway. While most of us would have believed that it's only human parents who like to baby-talk to their kids a new study proves otherwise. It looks like even dolphins succumb to a baby’s inherent cuteness.
A study published in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, says that female bottlenose dolphins have been found to change the tone of their whistles when bonding with their young. They modify their signature whistles in a way that can be likened to human parents speaking in baby talk. Over the course of three decades, researchers recorded the whistles of 19 mother dolphins in Florida when accompanied by their young offspring and when swimming alone or with other adults.
Each dolphin's whistle is unique and the sound acts as a signal for calling out its own name. For the few months of life of a calf, each bottlenose dolphin will develop a signature tune. This whistle acts like a name for the dolphin. The dolphins shout out their own “names” in the water “likely as a way to keep track of each other,” marine biologist Laela Sayigh of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, told Science News. But new research suggests that dolphin moms seem to alter that tune in the presence of their calves, which tend to stick by mom’s side for three to six years. The researchers examined 40 sounds of each dolphin’s signature whistle, “verified by the unique way each vocalization’s frequencies change over time.” These whistle adjustments echo baby talk because human caregivers use real words and language, just with certain inflections, Sayigh said.
Bottlenose dolphin moms modify their individually distinctive whistles — akin to a name — when their babies are nearby.https://t.co/yD8Xtiwp71— Science News (@ScienceNews) June 26, 2023
“Bottlenose dolphins are a prime candidate for child-directed or calf-directed communication,” shared Quincy Gibson, a marine mammal behavioral ecologist who was not involved with the study. Just like humans, these dolphins form strong mother-baby bonds and learn vocalizations. “This is unprecedented, absolutely fantastic data,” said Mauricio Cantor, an Oregon State University marine biologist who was not involved in the study per ABC News. “This study is the result of so much research effort.”
Right now researchers aren't sure if dolphins also use baby talk for other exchanges or if young dolphins learn to "talk" on their own this way. "It would make sense if there are similar adaptations in bottlenose dolphins — a long-lived, highly acoustic species,” where calves must learn to vocalize many sounds to communicate, said Frants Jensen, a behavioral ecologist at Denmark's Aarhus University and a study co-author. Another reason for using specific pitches is to get the young offspring's attention. "It’s really important for a calf to know ‘Oh, Mom is talking to me now’ versus just announcing her presence to someone else,” added Janet Mann, a marine biologist at Georgetown University, who was not involved in the study. How intelligent are these beautiful creatures!