Tag Archives: animals

Dolphins (probably) can’t recognize each other’s voices

[Above: Two bottlenose dolphins swimming around. Image via Max Pixel and Creative Commons CC0 license.]

Human speaking voices come in a dizzying array of tones. They can be raspy or reedy, lilting or monotone, chirpy or sonorous, nasal or throaty, breathy or booming, and that’s before we even start describing accents.

Most mammals, including humans, use their vocal tracts to make noise, and so slight variations in the anatomies of our voice boxes, throats, mouths, and nasal passages give our voices unique timbres.

Perhaps, not surprisingly, we can use variation in vocal qualities to tell people apart. (Some people have a lot more acuity at this than others, but most of us can recognize our favorite singers, even on songs we haven’t heard before, and distinguish our dog’s bark from the neighbors’ yapping.)

Animals do the same. Mother bats can recognize their babies’ voices.  (Anyone else remember Stellaluna?) So can fur seals, rhesus monkeys, and sheep.

“If you answer the phone, and it’s someone you know very well, you know the voice, and they don’t have to tell you their name,” explains behavioral biologist Laela Sayigh of Hampshire College. “That’s how really every other mammal that has ever been studied identifies each other.”

With one notable exception–dolphins.

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The Case of the Looming Octopus

[Photo  courtesy of David Scheel via Current Biology]

“Pitch Imperfect” is a series of blog posts where I highlight stories that I pitched but didn’t quite sell and discuss why it was tough to sell them. The goal is to share both interesting research stories and some of the obstacles in getting them into the news cycle.

Proposed Headline:

How Octopuses Communicate through their Color-Changing Skin

Proposed Dek (aka “the sub-headline” or  “social media blurb”)

Turning dark and “looming” is a warning; white with black splotches means surrender.

The Pitch

When a philosopher and a marine biologist set up cameras to record octopus’s mating behavior, they saw something they didn’t expect.

Octopuses- which many biologists describe as solitary, cannibalistic predators- appear to use their skin to send each other signals, according to their study in Current Biology.

The marine biologist, David Scheel, describes one example from their footage: “The first octopus comes up from the back, being very dramatic– standing tall and turning very dark. Then it tussles with the other octopus for a minute, until that octopus turns pale.”

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