SARASOTA, Fla. (NBC/WFLA) - It turns out humans aren't the only ones in the Animal Kingdom who name themselves.
Researchers in Florida just discovered bottlenose dolphins actually do the same thing.
Out in the pristine waters of Sarasota Bay, scientists from the Mote Marine Lab have spent the past 30 years studying the local neighbors: bottlenose dolphins.
They noticed something interesting. These mammals would whistle to one another, and scientists found these were not random noises.
"These whistles actually turned out to be names," said Dr. Randall Wells, with the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program. "They're abstract names, which is unheard of in the Animal Kingdom beyond people."
Wells is a local researcher who's been studying dolphins in Sarasota Bay since the 70s.
This report was just published a few week ago. The scientists discovered bottlenose dolphins come up with their own names when they're young.
"These animals will call another individual's name to get their attention," said Wells. "So they not only understand they have an identity, but they understand the other animal's identity. And they use that through communication."
Out in the Gulf, name-calling comes in handy.
"These animals are living in a murky, estuary environment," said Wells. "They have to maintain group cohesion and stay in contact with one another and coordinate their activities. How do you do that when you can't see one another?"
This is groundbreaking research, and scientists say it's only the tip of the iceberg.
They plan to use these findings to better understand these mammals in their natural environment.
The researcher says bottlenose dolphins don't swim in the wild with their own families. Instead, they make long-term friendships with dolphins from other families.
And they've learned that through name-calling, the dolphins can keep in touch with their friends and make new ones.
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