Dolphin speech: What do we know?

With recent developments in the field of communicating with dolphins (as I posted on a few weeks back), I became interested in what exactly people know about the speech of dolphins.  After all, if we’re soon to be talking with them, we should probably be at least reasonably sure of what we’re communicating. 

What scientists have found so far is that dolphin speech is very complicated.  They utilize many different sounds, such as whistles, clicks and chirps that range across many tones.  Being capable of so many sounds, it’s likely that they’re communicating more than just where and who they are.  It has also been determined that their speech patterns are much like those used by human beings.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to determine exactly what’s on their mind.  We do know that they identify themselves to other dolphins with a unique signature whistle, similar to a human name.  When introducing themselves to other dolphins they don’t just announce their name, however, but also their intention.  So when one dolphin meets another, they essentially introduce themselves and then let the other dolphin know that they wish to engage in some peaceful socialization.  So far, they sound pretty polite.  Dolphins also use their speech to maintain contact with their social group while traveling.

It is also known that dolphins respond to human interaction.  They have been seen to breach more often when encouraged by human laughter and applause.  When being taught ‘tricks,’ dolphins not only know what we’re saying, but also go beyond simple obedient response by adding their own personal touches, sometimes displaying a sense of humor.

More study will be needed and connected to relevant dolphin behaviors before a more thorough lexicon can be developed.  With the new developments in communication technology, we can likely expect a greater understanding to come soon.  Eventually, we may even be able to talk to them directly.  While the hopes of holding philosophical conversations with dolphins may be a little unrealistic, there almost certainly will come a time when they can let us know directly their state of mind and perhaps even relate to us the experiences of their life.



Photo Credits:

Pink Dolphin - GDFL