Scientists have spent decades listening to the whistles, clicks and squeaks that dolphins use to communicate. Interestingly, it turns out that these complex marine mammals may have a language that is similar to ours. A team of Russian researchers has recently recorded the first ever “conversation” between two Black Sea bottlenose dolphins, which suggests that dolphins use grammatical tools similar to the ones used in human speech. The researchers state they string together words into sentences, and don’t interrupt each other while speaking.
The key, says senior author Vyacheslav Ryabov at Russia’s Karadag Nature Reserve, are the noises that dolphins use to speak with one another. The whistles and clicks we associate with dolphins are known as “pulses,” which may be analogous to “words” in human speech. To record these pulses, the team used a waterproof microphone called a hydrophone to both record and analyze a pair of dolphins as they spoke with one another.
In an interview with CNN, Ryabov stated that the “[dolphins] are producing these packs of pulses without interrupting each other,” in a way that marine biologists think may be similar to our own sentences. The lack of interruption between each pack is another interesting development, unique to dolphins. He suggests that this is analogous to human speech, as the dolphins appear to listen to each other before speaking, just as we do while having a conversation. Further, after analyzing these pulses, the research team found that they varied in frequency, volume and spectrum, as do our sentences.
The researchers were quick to point out that we don’t know what the “words” mean at this point. Ryabov and his team say that the next step is to learn how to translate these vocalizations into something understandable. In an interview with Science Alert, he said that