HOW DO DOLPHINS "TALK" TO EACH OTHER?
Translated from Article by Omer & Liron –
Dolphin Trainers At Dolphin Reef Eilat
Everyone already knows that dolphins are intelligent and highly developed animals, but how do dolphins communicate with each other? Dolphins have a well-developed and complex communication, which has been researched in depth in the past few decades. We will try to shed some light on the subject, by dividing the types of communication into three parts, with examples from each:
Communication by touch - Touch plays an important part in the lives of a pod of dolphins. On one hand, many different types of touching can be seen – from the gentle touch of a mother to her calf, to the stroking all over the body between two dolphins for the purpose of courtship, including rubbing each other's bodies, mainly the sex organs. And, on the other hand – relating to the status of the dolphin within the pod, aggressive contact can be seen, including: tail slaps, butting and even biting. An example of communication by touch: when a mother and her calf swim together, there is often contact between the base of the mother's tail and the calf's body; giving the calf a feeling of security and protection, while providing the mother with information on the location of her calf.
Communication by body language - The "shows" that dolphins put on in nature, which include amazing jumps in the air and tail slaps on the water, are actually another way that the dolphins have to communicate with each other. Each method of jumping out of the water and each method of landing on the water have their significance. An example of communication by body language by jumping – when a dolphin executes a high jump and lands strongly on the side of its body. In some cases, it does so in order to mark its location for other dolphins. (In many cases, the jumps are just part of fun and games!) In the water, swimming in various ways can be seen – belly upwards, chest forward, tail flapping up or down, spinning during swimming, moving the head from side to side, and more. There is also great importance in the speed of the swimming and the location of the dolphin in relation to the rest of the group – that is, the structure of the pod.
An example of communication through body language in the water – when a male swims towards a female on his back with his chest sticking out, this is his attempt to show that female his size and strength and to persuade her to mate with him.
Vocal communication - Vocal communication (the most complex and highly developed of all) is divided into two types and takes place in the water only.
Echolocation - also known as sonar: this is the most highly developed sense in dolphins. Here is a short explanation – the dolphin emits sound waves (sounding like "clicks") from its blowhole and transfers them through the thick fat called "the melon", located on its forehead. This fat lump acts as a "lens" which channels the clicks to a certain direction. The dolphin then receives the returning sound waves (the echo) through its lower jaw from a loose bone connected directly to its inner ear. Thus, the dolphin receives a kind of "picture" of its surroundings. With the aid of the sonar, the dolphin navigates, becomes familiar with its surroundings, and even hunts. We, humans, have imitated this ability in building the ultrasound machine and the sonar used on ships and submarines.
Some of the sonar sounds are used by the dolphins to communicate with each other, for example: during a fight, the dolphin emits certain clicks expressing aggression.
Whistles: Dolphins have a very large repertoire of whistles which are used for communication. Today it is known that each dolphin has its own personal "signature whistle", which acts as a sort of name. It is also know that each dolphin knows how to imitate the whistles of the other dolphins. Besides the signature whistle, there are whistles which express enthusiasm, distress, surprise, excitement and many more.
In conclusion, we would like to add that with regard to vocal communication, in particular, and communication between dolphins, in general, there is more unknown than known and, as research progresses, additional questions continually arise. For example, it is known that dolphins "talk" to each other even from great distances, but it is not clear how they do it. Another known fact is that pods from different areas develop "dialects" and often are unable to communicate fully upon meeting each other.