Scientists have long known that dolphins can use whistles and clicks to express ideas and warnings to other dolphins, but we never knew the extent of that communication until now.
Researchers at the Karadag Nature Reserve, in Feodosia, Russia have recorded two Black Sea bottle nose dolphins by the names Yasha and Yana having conversations consisting of sentences up to five words in length. The team says this shows dolphins have a language not entirely dissimilar from our own.
The researchers at Karadag Nature Reserve used a new underwater microphone that could distinguish between different sounds the animals made. They found there was an eerily human-like flow to the conversation between Yasha and Yana. The animals would take turns producing pulses and clicks with up to five distinct sounds or “words” if you will. The other dolphin would wait for the “sentence” to be complete before replying.
As for what they are saying, we aren’t sure yet. In 2007, Australian scientists were able to identify specific whistles that dolphins could use to find others or indicate the presence of food. These more complex patterns of phonemes are difficult to decipher.
These are animals with entirely different brain structures that handle the processing of sensory input in auditory ranges beyond our ability to perceive. Their brains are also larger than those of humans, although they’re smaller relative to body mass. Dolphins still have the highest brain to body mass ratio of any creature other than humans.
With this new data about the way dolphins communicate, other teams may be able to compare sentences in other populations and find some commonalities that could help identify meanings.