Do the clicks and whistling sounds made by dolphins form discrete words and even full sentences? They do, if you ask Russian scientists who say they have documented conversation between a pair of Black Sea dolphins.
In research published in St. Petersburg Polytechnical University's journal Physics and Mathematics, scientists from the Karadag Scientific Station recorded sound pulses between two bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) and now suggest that each recorded pulse represents a "word" and that a "pack" of the pulses together form a "sentence."
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Researchers have long known that dolphin sounds carry meaning. They can convey information such as warnings about predators, information about foraging and navigation and emotions such as delight. They've even been shown, in recent research, to denote individual dolphin names.
But this study adds a new wrinkle to that understanding of the highly intelligent creatures.
By changing the volume and frequency of the clicks, the dolphins formed discrete words, using up to five of them in short sentences, the team found. "We can assume that each pulse represents a phoneme, or a word, of the dolphin's spoken language," they wrote.
The recordings "showed that the dolphins took turns in producing pulse packs and did not interrupt each other," said the researchers, suggesting that the marine mammals could be listening to the entire sentence before making responses of their own.
The exchange, they said, "resembles a conversation between two people. "
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The dolphins in the conversation, Yasha and Yana, were recorded in a pool the animals call home at the Karadag Nature Reserve in Russia.
Their chatter, say the scientists, was not likely idle.
"As this language exhibits all the design features present in the human spoken language, this indicates a high level of intelligence and consciousness in dolphins, and their language can be ostensibly considered a highly developed spoken language, akin to the human language," the researchers said.
Divining the meaning behind the pulses, they wrote, would be the next logical step, requiring the creation of new devices that could bridge the gap in understanding between human and dolphin communication.
"Humans must take the first step to establish relationships with the first intelligent inhabitants of the planet Earth," the scientists concluded.
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