English 28

Dolphins

Here’s a conversation worth talking about: A mother dolphin chats with her baby…over the telephone! The special call has been made1 in an aquarium, where the mother and her calf swam in separate tanks connected by an audio link. The two dolphins began squawking, and chirping2 to each other. It seemed clear that they knew whom they were talking to3 – but what were they saying? That’s what scientists are trying to find out. They haven’t completely cracked the code yet, but they’re listening…and learning.

In many ways, the project of studying dolphin communication patterns poses numerous challenges for researchers.4 Like them, dolphins are mammals and must swim to the surface to breathe air. They team up in pods, or groups, to accomplish tasks. They also talk to each other, though.5

[6] Sometimes one dolphin will vocalize and then another will seem to answer. Sometimes members of a pod vocalize in different patterns at the same time, creating an ear-splitting din.7 And just as people gesture as they talk, dolphins communicate through body posture; jaw claps, and bubble blowing.8

Scientists think dolphins “talk” about everything from basic facts like their age to their emotional state. When the going gets tough, for instance some9 dolphins call for backup. After being bullied by a duo of bottlenose dolphins, one spotted dolphin returned to the scene the next day with a few pals to bother and harass10 one of the bully bottlenose dolphins. It’s as if the spotted dolphin communicated to members of his pod that he needed their help, then led them in search for11 the offender.

Kathleen Dudzinski, director of the Dolphin Communication Project, has listened to dolphins for more than 17 years, using high-tech gear that was recently developed by scientists.12 But she says she’s far from speaking “dolphin” yet. Part of the reason is the elusiveness of the animals. Dolphins are fast swimmers who can stay underwater for up to ten minutes. Dudzinski says, studying13 dolphins is like studying icebergs because they spend most of their lives underwater.

Deciphering “dolphin speak” is also tricky because their language is so dependent on whether they’re playing, fighting, or seeking food. It’s no different for humans. [14] During fights, for example, dolphins clap their jaws, but they jaw clap while playing, too. If you like mysteries and detective work, then this is the job for you.15 And who knows—maybe someday you’ll get a phone call from a dolphin.