Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Fishing for dolphins

Dolphins apparently use unique whistle vocalizations to identify themselves to others. Kind of like Roger Whittaker's Durham Town.

The story has been blogged here and here. The paper that presents the research touches on a number of identity aspects to the story that I haven't seen discussed elsewhere:

  1. The whistles actually convey identity, i.e. it's not the sound of the dolphin's voice that others recognize, it's the pattern of the whistle itself.

  2. A consequence of the previous is that it would be possible for one dolphin to impersonate another by using that dolphin's unique signature whistle. It seems they do this.

  3. The identifiers are both global (e.g. a dolphin uses the same whistle to identify itself to all other dolphins) and persistent across the lifetime of the animal. Apparently, privacy is not a big concern at the moment. This will likely change as more and more get 'fished'.

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