Stephanie King, of the University of St. Andrews, found in studies between 1988 and 2004 that 10 wild bottlenose dolphins were heard copying the signature call of other dolphins in their group.
Dolphins develop their own unique vocalization, and King found that some will mimic the call of their companions, apparently to get their attention when separated.
But the copied call also contained an element of the calling dolphin’s own vocalization, so the one being called will know which other dolphin was trying to get its attention.
King says that since there is no evidence the calls are used as part of aggression or deception, they are most likely used to shout out a hunting “buddy” or family member.
The copied calls were heard only when a pair had become separated, which King believes is a clear sign they were trying to get back together.
The findings were presented in mid-August at the summer conference of the Association for the Study of Animal Behavior, in St. Andrews, Scotland.