The jury is still out on whether dolphins communicate by name like humans do, but Megan Garber spotlights a study showing how the animals possess “the most durable social memory ever recorded for a non-human”:
[Biologist Jason Bruck] studied dolphins from six breeding facilities that rotate the animals among themselves — and, in the process, keep detailed records of which dolphins shared tanks, and when. There were more than 50 animals in all. Bruck first recorded each dolphin’s unique whistle. And then he played it back to the dolphins’ former tankmates using underwater speakers. … The point? To test whether the dolphins would recognize each others’ whistles, even after years-long stretches of separation.
The findings? The dolphins did, indeed, seem to remember each other. The whistles of the dolphins’ former tankmates resulted in the dolphins doing things like purposely bumping into a speaker, or (even more sadly) whistling at it — “trying,” Nature notes, “to make it whistle back.”
And that recognition behavior held, even more interestingly, no matter how long a pair had been separated. A dolphin named Bailey had been living apart from a former tankmate, Allie, for more than 20 years. Yet Bailey, in Bruck’s experiment, seemed to recognize Allie’s “name” — her signature whistle — despite the temporal distance.
(Photo by Patrik Jones)