April 19, 2024 at 3:36 pm

New Recording Suggests Dolphins Can Learn To Speak “Porpoise”

by Trisha Leigh

Source: Shutterstock

Ah, dolphins. They’re cute, they’re smart, they’re super curious about humans – those are just a few reasons everyone loves them.

Now, a recording suggests they might be capable of even more than we thought.

Kylie is a wild dolphin who lives with an adopted pod of harbor porpoises near Scotland.

In 2022, she was caught using “language” used by the porpoises in order to communicate.

In a recent paper, researchers are discussing whether or not all dolphins are capable, in extreme circumstances, of learning to “speak” a foreign language.

Source: Shutterstock

They used a hydrophone to study her acoustic behavior, comparing the noises she makes while swimming alone to the ones she uses when with her adopted pod.

Kylie has lived with the porpoise pod for 14 years, which could explain why her vocalizations include high-pitched click bursts that are common to porpoises.

Their narrow-band, high-frequency clicks are known as NBHF clicks.

Dolphin vocalizations tend toward whistles and pulse calls, two noises that porpoises never make.

Paper co-author David Nairn was one of the people who reviewed the recordings.

“Kylie definitely identifies as a porpoise. Not only did Kylie not whistle like other dolphins, but even when alone she could be heard using sounds that resemble the NBHF clicks associated with porpoises.”

Though no one knows how or why Kylie was originally separated from her dolphin pod, likely causes are illness, injury, or adverse weather.

The porpoises have adopted her, and vice versa. Both species are social animals and Kylie likely would not have survived long on her own.

Source: Bioacoustics

Other cetaceans have been seen (and heard) to pick up on vocalizations unfamiliar to them.

Captive orcas, for example, picked up on the vocalizations of bottlenose dolphins they were socialized with.

Other species have also shown a willingness to adopt outsiders the way the porpoises have done with Kylie. Bottlenose dolphins have been spotted in pods with pilot whale calves, and once a narwhal showed up in a pod of belugas.

That second pairing is pretty much my dream encounter.

And sure, dolphins can be scary, but they can also be inclusive.

So maybe it’s a wash in the end.

Thought that was fascinating? Here’s another story you might like: Why You’ll Never See A Great White Shark In An Aquarium