How Do Dolphins Communicate?


Dolphins are brilliant mammals that are capable of complex emotions. They have proved their proficiency to communicate, coordinate and interact with other species. They maintain a complex social network with associates, relatives and also casual relationships with other dolphins that are associated with the larger group. Dolphins find food by hunting together.  They work in teams to herd the prey and then swim into the school of fish to chomp the meal. It is still not completely understood how dolphins communicate and coordinate despite intense research on the discussion.

How Do Dolphins Communicate?

In case you didn’t know, sound travels faster through water than through air. Dolphins rely on the sound to communicate with their peers. All the bottlenose dolphins have a unique high pitched whistle. It is also called as the signature whistle (Tyack, 2000). It is used to identify the details such as names. Using the whistle, it is capable of letting the other members of the pod be aware of each other’s position. It also helps communicate their mental state.

When a dolphin is in a state of distress, it will emit a high pitch whistle. The whistle is meant to establish physical or vocal contact with the nearest member of the pod. The responder will often mimic the whistle or move towards the direction of the Whistler.

When a calf and its mother is separated, they use the whistle until they are reunited. The whistling is also evident when they are separated from the pod.

Since, it is common for a dolphin pod the whistle at once; Dolphins will not immediately rush to the source of whistle upon hearing the signature call.  But in any case, the Dolphins may whistle to keep track of each other’s position.

While foraging for prey, the bottlenose dolphins may whistle. Research points out that the Dolphins are likely to whistle at a greater frequency upon finding a school of prey. When the calls increase, it attracts more members to partake in the rounding of prey. It also benefits more dolphin members to snack on the fish.  The whistling behavior is also to attract more members so that it establishes the sense of security among the pod from sharks and other larger predators that have interest in the same prey being rounded up by the Dolphins.

Dolphins are capable of mimicking the sounds of other dolphins and can recreate identical whistle.

However, when dolphins are part of a larger group, they whistle to get the attention from the dolphin pod. Despite the research pointing out this fact, it is unclear about the exact reasons for imitating the sounds.

Dolphins are known to use other sounds to communicate with their members. They give pulsed sounds during the courtship period. But, if a dolphin is in a state of aggression, it emits a click-train buzzing.

Despite the Dolphins having keen eyesight above and below the water, they do not rely on the visual communication. Sometimes the silt and floating particles affect their visual efficiency over larger distances. There are questions aplenty with regards to one of the brainiest mammals on earth. The body language and the gestures are still under study waiting to be deciphered to understand the species.

Below are some of the common dolphin behaviors observed from the Dolphin Research Center. These signals are reckoned as visual communication.

Play dead: It rolls over yielding in the vicinity of another dolphin.

Flex: It bends the head and tail outwards

Headwag: Quick side to side jerking of the head.

Arching: It bends the head and the tail inwards.

Eye whites display: Rolls their eyes from a neutral position and exposes the whites of their eye.

Snit: Steep head-jerking from one side to another while the jaws can be closed or open. It may also be accompanied by squealing. But, sometimes it may also be a display of aggression or agitation.

Dolphins also communicate by touching the members of their pod. It is normal for the calves to swim beside their mother making body contact with the pectoral fins or their flanks. It helps build the bond and promotes the social tendency among the pod members. They can also engage in a rough body contact while establishing the dominance or during courtship.

Dolphins use their teeth to make parallel scratches on each other’s skin. It is hard to ascertain their exact relevance in the dolphin community. Here are some signs that dolphins indicated while being studied at the Dolphin Research Center.

Butt: pounding with snout.

Rub: Rubbing each other’s body with friction.

Hold hands: bringing the pectoral fins together.

Bite: Gently gripping the body part another animal with the mouth

Mouth: tapping other animals with mouth open.

Pectoral Pat: tapping with the pectoral fin.

Push: poking another with the head

Ram: Head butting another dolphin with force applied.

Nuzzle: Gently brushing with another with the mouth shut

Standing on chest: Lifting another Dolphin out of the water, while the dolphin lifting will remain inverted. The recipient is placed between the flippers. This behavior is usually seen between mother and her calf.

Tail kick: slapping with the tail.

Tooth Rake: gently placing the grip on the body of another animal with the teeth. It could also indicate aggression or agitation.

For years, dolphin researchers have looked hard into the behavior of dolphins trying to unknot their intricate communication system. It seemed that their communication system is structured in the manner the humans do. Albeit, some dolphins have learned to understand efficiently the hand gestures and computer generated whistles, we are still short of an accurate answer to predict the meaning of their behavior.

Dolphins have evolved gracefully in the complex system, and their learning ability is evident from the behavior and response to the commands of animal trainers. They are graceful creatures that have mastered the art of communicating and interacting not just with their species but also with humans and other animals as well. These animals are capable of detecting a stressful situation and have rescued humans and other animals from distress.  Hence,   it remarkable how the Dolphins had acquired the ability to understand and respond appropriately to situations.