Bottlenose dolphins are all individuals. Each one communicates with a unique whistle and researchers are now tuning in to these distinct noises to help protect the much-loved species.

Scientists at Edith Cowan University (ECU) and Curtin University in Australia are using sound, instead of sight, to track dolphin communities. As part of the study, bottlenose dolphins living in Western Australia’s Swan River were monitored to find out if unique whistles could be attributed to individuals. It was the first time attempted acoustic tracking was trialled in the area and by the time they had finished, over 500 whistles had been matched to dolphin photos.

Curtin University Professor Christine Erbe tells Euronews Living, “a whistle is like a name for an individual.” Each individual dolphin “has a unique signature whistle which it emits when it is isolated from the group, so that animals can find each other again. These are like contact calls.”

School of dolphins swimming side by sideUnsplash

These results could have significant implications for dolphin conservation globally, ECU researcher Associate Professor Chandra Salgado confirmed. Until now, researchers around the world have relied on “laborious and expensive visual surveys on boats to track individual dolphins,” she says.

The study was based on data from previous research trips in recent years. Results were obtained by matching the recycled data from two independent studies, one on photo-ID, the other on underwater sound, to see the correlation. “We literally went through our databases to find days when we had simultaneous photographs of dolphins and underwater recordings,” says Christine. “Our next goal will be to narrow this down to individuals.

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