Questions about whether or not dolphins have a form of language have been asked for decades, with many now believing that the intelligent cetaceans are capable of such skills. But getting indisputable evidence of this has been notoriously difficult; the animals travel long distances, communicate in sounds beyond which we can hear, and socialize in large groups making recording and distinguishing between calls a little tricky.
Now, however, scientists studying dolphins at the Karadag Nature Reserve research station, located in the Crimean town of Feodosia, claim to have recorded a dolphin conversation. The two animals in question are a pair known as Yana and Yasha, who live in a pool at the facility, allowing the researchers to fully eavesdrop on the cetaceans as they communicate with each other. They believe that a series of pulses, clicks, and whistles represent the two dolphins forming sentences and having a conversation.
“Our experiments showed that the dolphins took turns in producing pulse packs and did not interrupt each other, which gives reason to believe that each of the dolphins listened to the other's [call] before producing its own,” writes Dr Vyacheslav Ryabov, lead author of the paper discussing the “conversation” published in the journal of Mathematics and Physics. They observed how the two dolphins stayed stationary within one meter of each other, and strung up to five different vocalizations together, before apparently waiting for the other one's response.
The researcher’s claim that these individual noises are consistent with individual words, and that added together mean the dolphins are in effect forming sentences. “Essentially, this exchange resembles a conversation between two people,” Dr Ryabov continued. “The analysis of the dolphin spoken language in this study has revealed that it either directly or indirectly possesses all the known design features of the human spoken language.”
It has already been observed that dolphins produce different noises for different situations and things they experience, such as calling others from the group over to a particular food. Not only that, but it has been found that individual animals have their own signature whistle, unique to each dolphin and acquired not long after birth, which some argue is akin to each dolphin having its own name.
But the claim that they have been recorded forming sentences is certain to be controversial. Yet the researchers seem adamant that this is the case, and that steps should be taken to try and bridge the gap. “Humans must take the first step to establish relationships with the first intelligent inhabitants of the planet Earth by creating devices capable of overcoming the barriers that stand in the way of using languages and in the way of communications between dolphins and people,” said Dr Ryabov.