Dolphins have long been known to engage in advanced communication among one another. Dolphins have been previously observed producing specific whistles taught to them by humans in order to get food rewards, and have been recorded in the wild communicating through verbal signals. Whether or not this communication is a structured language is still a hot topic of debate among marine biologists and linguists, and gathering data is difficult.
However, a surprising new discovery at the Karadag Nature Reserve in Feodosiya, Russia might put that debate to rest once and for all. Using advanced underwater microphones called hydrophones, marine biologists there captured what they’re calling a “conversation” between two dolphins.
The two dolphins, named Yasha and Yana, were recorded engaging in a back-and-forth communication that contained highly sophisticated acoustic structures similar to the variety of sounds made by humans. The recorded dolphin sounds varied in pitch, length, volume, and frequency, very much like words in a human conversation would.
According to this new research published in the Journal of Physics and Mathematics, the recorded interaction between the two dolphins represents the first conclusive evidence that dolphins do, in fact, have a structured language:
Since the spoken language of the dolphin consists of spectral extrema that act as phonemes, we can hypothesize that it has both phonological and grammatical structures, so dolphins can create an infinite number of words from a finite number of spectral extrema, which can in turn create an infinite number of sentences.
Lead author Vyacheslav A. Ryabov writes that the sounds recorded by his team were so sophisticated that they display features fairly similar to human speech:
As this language exhibits all the design features present in the human spoken language, this indicates a high level of intelligence and consciousness in dolphins, and their language can be ostensibly considered a highly developed spoken language, akin to the human language.
If this research stands up to scientific scrutiny, it could give animal rights activists a big boost in their efforts to curb the annual dolphin killings that occur every year throughout Asia. Plus, it’ll be awesome to finally get to ask those dolphins what really goes on under the ocean when we’re not looking.