Bottlenose dolphins Tursiops truncatus produce individually distinctive signature whistles. Dolphins recognize the signature whistles of animals with which they share a social bond. Signature whistles develop within the first few months of life and are stable for a lifetime. Vocal learning appears to play a role in the development of signature whistles in bottlenose dolphins. The signature whistles of most female dolphins and about half of male dolphins differ from those of their mothers. Some dolphin calves born in captivity develop a signature whistle that matches either man-made whistles or those of an unrelated dolphin. Dolphins retain the ability as adults to imitate the whistles of animals with which they share strong individual-specific social relationships, bonds which may change throughout their lifetime. The exceptional imitative abilities of dolphin infants and the retention of this ability in adults may be related to the maintenance of changing individual-specific social relationships. Individual recognition by the voice may differ in marine vs terrestrial mammals. Diving marine mammals may not be able to rely upon involuntary voice cues for individual recognition, but rather may require vocal learning to maintain a stable signature as their vocal tract changes shape with increasing pressure during a dive.
bottlenose dolphins, Tursiops truncatus, vocal development, vocal learning, signature whistle.