Dolphins ‘talk’ to each other with tail slaps

LONDON - Scientists have found that dolphins ‘talk’ to each other with body movements like the slap of a tail, in a form of sign language based on similar rules to human communication.

According to a report in the Telegraph, scientists observed dolphins using body ‘language’ that also included diving and flopping sideways on the surface, in behaviour they believe to be a form of linguistics.

Just like human words, the shorter signals are the ones that they use most frequently, which is known as the “law of brevity”.
“Patterns of dolphin behaviour at the surface obey the same law of brevity as human language, with both seeking out the simplest and most efficient codes,” said Dr Ramon Ferrer i Cancho, from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia in Spain.

He was working with a British colleague on the project, Dr David Lusseau, a lecturer in marine populations from the University of Aberdeen.

The pair examined the behaviour of bottlenose dolphins in their natural environment off the coast of New Zealand.

Dolphins have a complex language that scientists have yet to understand. Most communication is verbal, using a series of audible clicks and whistles.

But, scientists have found that they also appear to use body language while swimming close to one another.

The pair discovered that each movement pattern made by the creatures could be broken down into one or more of four basic units.

Dolphins were seen to execute many behaviour patterns made up of just one movement, and far fewer composed of four movements together.

For example, the “tail slap” pattern could be divided up into three sub-movements given the names “slap”, “tail” and “two”.

A pattern called “spy hop” was made up of the units “stop”, “expose”, and “head”.

In contrast, the “side flop” pattern only comprised “leap” and “side”, while a movement dubbed “tail-stock dive” consisted of only one unit, the “dorsal arch”.

In total, the researchers counted more than 30 patterns of behaviour and their related units.

According to Dr Ferrer i Cancho, “The results show that the simple and efficient behaviour strategies of dolphins are similar to those used by humans with words.”

“As far as we know, this is the first evidence of the law (of brevity) in another species, suggesting that coding efficiency is not unique to humans,” he added. (ANI)


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