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Do a little eavesdropping, learn about dolphins' language

Researchers have been listening in on the unique whistles to understand how dolphins communicate in Sarasota Bay.

SARASOTA, Fla. — Researchers have been doing a little eavesdropping on dolphins, and they're starting to have a better idea of how they communicate with each other.

Over the years, researchers at the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program have collected hundreds of recordings by installing hydrophones that are like microphones that work in the water.

Athena Rycyk is a researcher at New College of Florida. She said it's part of a network of listening stations all over Sarasota Bay, from Osprey to Anna Maria Island.

“This means we can take their signature whistle and match it to a particular dolphin because of the long-term research,” Rycyk said. “We can listen to the acoustic interactions between the dolphins to get a sense of what’s going on.”

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That can give researchers an idea of which dolphins are swimming by, why they're there and who they're with.  They think the more they record these marine mammals, the better idea they have of what they are trying to say.

“The more we get to hear how they use these sounds in their real lives, the more we can understand what it means to them and how it's helpful for them in their lives,” staff scientist Katherine McHugh said.

The dolphins’ whistles are tonal like a melody and can go up and down in pitch. Each one is a little different than the other. They put them in a spectrogram to check out the pitches and found more than 260 of them.

Researchers have also learned that the dolphins even have specific signature whistles used as identifiers for individual dolphins, similar to how humans have names.

The researchers just added two new sites to the Sarasota Bay Listening Network. Stations were added at Anna Maria Elementary School and New College of Florida with money from the Disney Conservation Fund.

You can do a little eavesdropping too. We've posted a link to the recordings here.

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