"We found that individual male dolphins retain their unique signature whistle, allowing them to recognize many different friends and rivals in their social network, something not now known from any other non-human animal", said report co-author Stephanie King of the University of Western Australia wrote at The Conversation. These alliances can last decades, and have been the subject of intense study for decades as well.
"All bottlenose dolphins (male and female) have their own signature whistle, which is a unique identity signal somewhat comparable to a human name", King told ZME Science.
Pairs and trios of dolphins joined together to form larger alliances of 10-14 to help each other defend females from competing alliances or to steal females from those other groupings.
"The names help males keep track of their many different relationships; who their friends are, who are their friends' friends, and who are their competitors". However, it was previously thought that male dolphins would converge on a shared signature whistle when they formed long-term cooperative partnerships/alliances with one another.
"Dolphins employ these kinds of behaviour in order to advertise alliance unity", she said.
Dolphins may be more akin to humans than believed, said a study released on Friday, confirming that the marine mammals use individual "names" to identify friends and rivals among social networks. In other words, dolphins that were related didn't necessarily have similar names.
A bottlenose dolphin signature whistle.
Signature whistles of two different male dolphins from Shark Bay, Western Australia. Stephanie King, of the University of Western Australia, and colleagues wanted to better understand the role that vocal communication plays in coordinating complex social behaviors - such as cooperation - in bottlenose dolphins.
After collecting the recordings, the team were able to determine the "names" or individual vocal label of each male.
Their closeness also extends to their physical touch.
"It will be interesting to reveal whether all cooperative relationships within alliances are equal or not", she says.They measured the similarity of these identifying signals, both within their immediate alliance and within another network in their community.
So how do these males keep track of all these different relationships, and how do they maintain such strong social bonds? That is something that would be worth investigating. Scientists aren't sure how dolphins get their names but they develop signature whistle during their first few months of life.