Do dolphins have language skills similar to ours? Do the vocalizations of bottlenose dolphins mean anything? Are the dolphins conveying useful information or just having a good time? While primates such as chimpanzees can be taught sign language, there is a great deal of scepticism as to whether they are using language that has a grammatical structure, or whether they are just imitating actions that they see others perform.
A recent study by Holli Eskelinen of Dolphins Plus Research Institute and others at the University of Southern Mississippi, and reported by New Scientist, suggests that dolphin language does convey information and that dolphins “talk” to each other while carrying out a joint task. The experiment, reported in a recent issue of Animal Cognition involved dolphins being given a canister of food, that they could open by each tugging simultaneously on ropes attached to each end. Some dolphins managed the task on their own. The ones who carried out the task together made more vocalizations while they worked together. These were very different from vocalizations used for courting, or the vocalizations used while opening the canister on their own. The language is most likely a form of communication to help each other with the joint task.
For the first time we know what the dolphins were saying:
“Hey buddy, grab the rope while I hold this end and let’s pull together!”