Friday, November 5, 2010

dolphin gibberish

In truly one of the weirdest and most awesomest studies in a long time, Laura May-Collado* discovered that dolphins speak gibberish just to fuck with each other!

I'll give fair warning that my entire understanding of this study comes from a BBC article, so gawd knows what the facts really are, but this version is too awesome not to pass along. The "facts", as I understand them, are:
  • There are two species of dolphins that often swim together (big Bottlenose and small Guyana).
  • When swimming within Bottlenose-only groups, the big Bottlenose dolphins emit long, low frequency whistles to each other.
  • When swimming within Guyana-only groups, the small Guyana dolphins emit high frequency whistles to each other.
  • Sometimes the dolphins swim in mixed-species groups.
  • The big Bottlenose dolphins often harass the small Guyana dolphins (assholes).
  • When swimming in mixed-groups, the dolphins emit intermediate frequency whistles.
It's that last point that is the crux of the study. Why do they change their whistles when swimming in mixed groups? Unfortunately, Collado's equipment was not designed to tease apart exactly which dolphins were emitting the intermediate whistles, so it's pure speculation what's going on here. But one hypothesis is this: It could even be that the Guyana dolphins are attempting "to emit threatening sounds in the language of the intruder", in a bid to make the bottlenose dolphins desist, Dr May-Collado says.

The kids over at Language Log have discussed the phenomenon of speaking gibberish in other languages before (see here) and now it appears dolphins do the same. I love it!

*Associate Researcher & Adjunct Professor, Universidad de Puerto Rico, Facultad de Ciencias Naturales Departmento de Biologia, University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras (that's a hell of a title!).

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