Dolphins and dialects

From Reuters:

Dolphins living off the coast of Wales whistle, bark and groan in a different dialect from dolphins off the western coast of Ireland, scientists have discovered.

Different physical environments might have contributed to the mammals developing distinctive sets of vocalizations or “dialects,” said Simon Berrow from the Shannon Dolphin and Wildlife Foundation.

Berrow supervised a master’s thesis by student Ronan Hickey at University of Wales, Bangor, who analyzed 1,882 whistles from the dolphins in the Shannon estuary and bottlenose dolphins in Cardigan Bay in Wales. The study found 32 different sound categories, of which eight were only produced by the Shannon animals.

“The idea that the sounds are different is not a bad notion — you’d expect the information had to be different given the diversity of the areas where they reside,” Berrow told Reuters, adding he would use the data to create a dictionary of sounds and pursue the research further, should time and money allow.

There are times when I just sigh. As much as I love nature and animals of all persuasions — and God knows I hope we can maintain our climate so as to save as many from extinction as possible — there are times when I can’t help but wonder if our scientific focus is fecked beyond belief. Now, I will confess I’m fascinated by this little story, as it’s quirky and unusual. But was it worth the time and money? Could our scientific expertise be used toward better ends? Or am I ignoring the simple joy of research for research’s sake?

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