Dolphins are quickly proving themselves to be the Camille-at-a-Dinner Party’s of the sea, as a new study has shown they remember things they heard twenty years ago and are not shy about repeating them, even though we were all having a perfectly nice time until you started bring up OLD, TIRED DRAMA, CAMILLE.
Jason Bruck, a researcher at the University of Chicago, tracked captive dolphins’ responses to the unique identifying whistles of former tank mates and determined that they readily recognize whistles produced by dolphins from whom they had been separated for upwards of 20 years.
Previous studies have determined that these whistles functions like a human name; every dolphin has its own whistle, but is also capable of mimicking the signature whistles of other dolphins. Dolphins respond when they hear another dolphin copying their whistle, as humans do when they hear another human calling their name.
Bruck said that recordings of whistles from dolphins the study subjects had never met (strangerbitch dolphins) produced little response; the dolphins “got bored quickly” when listening to strangers’ calls. By contrast, recordings of whistles from creatures the dolphins had lived with—even if the dolphin pairs had had no contact for decades—elicited an immediate response. The dolphins in the study would even mimic the sound, in an effort to get the taped recording to respond to them, which is like a really sad version of that answering machine prank where you trick people into thinking you’re actually on the line via elaborate verbal trickery (“Just let me turn down the TV...") and then totally burn them by not being there, high-five, EPIC.
In scientific terms, the dolphins exhibited what’s believed to be the longest social memory ever demonstrated outside of humans. (A University news story about the study mentioned that, anecdotally, elephants have been found to remember their mothers after two decades, but it’s not clear whether the same memory holds for extra-familial relations.) What’s more, while human voices and facial features change over time, dolphin whistles remain constant across decades.
So when you meet a dolphin and are like "Have we met?" that's fine because you're bad with names and faces. But when a dolphin meets you and is like "Have we met?" that dolphin is being really rude and causing a lot of drama at this wine tasting for no reason.
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