Dolphins also change their voices with their young

Dolphins also change their voices with their young


THE dolphins they look like us. This is confirmed by new research on the behavior of these cetaceans. The last ones concern their language: not only do they call each other by name, but they too, when addressing their little ones, speak in madrese (or baby talk whatever you want), that non-language language that mothers use when addressing their children. That charming way of speaking would in fact have its equivalent in the bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). In front of puppies their whistles have a wider frequency range and higher frequencies: hear for yourself the sounds collected thanks to underwater microphones by researchers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). Details on the PNAS pages.


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“The fact that dolphins use the madresse it’s an excellent example of what we call convergent evolution,” he commented Laela Sayigh of WHOI, first author of the paper – this is a type of communication strategy that has evolved in three very different species – humans, dolphins and even diamondfish”. Particular vocalizations aimed at the little ones they are also observed in some primates and even moles bats, the authors recall, even if in these cases talking about madrese is more difficult (at least from an acoustic point of view). “It’s certainly fascinating to think that madrese probably does something, although we’re not in a position to prove it,” the researcher continues.

For now, in fact, what the researchers have done is listen to the whistles emitted by some female dolphins during brief capture events for health checks carried out in Sarasota Bay, Florida. Nineteen of those monitored a whole, in different conditions: some were alone, others were in the company of their puppies, still others in the company of other dolphins. In this way, the researchers observed that the presence of the pups – which in this population of bottlenose dolphins can remain tied to their mothers for three to six years – leads the mothers to emit different vocalizations in their characteristic “signature boos” (a sound signature characteristic of each dolphin), in what we would call exactly madresse.


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In particular, the study reads, the presence of young leads the mother dolphins to speak with higher maximum frequencies and lower minimum frequencies. And the similarities with the madrese are too many to believe that it doesn’t have some function, even if the same authors admit that it could be the case. Similarities to humans – dolphins are highly social animals, with a rich vocal repertoire and long accompaniment of young – suggest that, just as hypothesized for our species, madrese aids dolphins in learning of vocalizations and helps to strengthen bonds. In a complex network like theirs, mothers using it could thus find a direct line to talk to their puppies, the article continues.


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