This fascinating article in Science says that each dolphin has it's own name (which is communicated as a "whistle"), and other dolphins can recognize each other by their "name". However, do we have a rough idea about how many names a dolphin can know? For example, is there a dolphin that is known to recognize 100+ names?

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    $\begingroup$ Interesting to know dolphins have names. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 22, 2022 at 1:22
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    $\begingroup$ Not really a bioacoustics question, but more cognitive neuroscience. Maybe better answers can be found in other groups? $\endgroup$
    – user18
    Commented Jun 22, 2022 at 21:45
  • $\begingroup$ I doubt that anyone from any other SE site would have been able to give a better answer than the one I got here! $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 22, 2022 at 22:03
  • $\begingroup$ Out of scope for this SE. $\endgroup$
    – Thejasvi
    Commented Jun 23, 2022 at 11:38

1 Answer 1


I don't believe this has ever been tested and there are probably limited populations where you have good recordings of most of the animals in the population that could be used in a playback set-up to determine the answer. As well, the populations whose signature whistles have been best studied (e.g. Sarasota Bay, Florida) have less than 200 resident animals (although likely more that occasionally occur in the area) so any study may be limited to testing that many examples. You'd also have to account for animals in the population that have passed away, whose signature whistles may still be remembered by other animals in the group.

Signature whistles have also been found in oceanic populations of bottlenose dolphins (e.g. Rio et al. 2022), where population sizes tend to be bigger - although the feasibility of carrying out such a study on an offshore population is even less than for a coastal population.

Rio, Raul, Hiram Rosales‐Nanduca, Lucia A. Piuma, João F. Piuma, Manuela Piuma, Guilherme S. Redecker, and Lilian S. Hoffmann. "First report of signature whistles in an oceanic common bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) population from Revillagigedo Archipelago, Mexico." Marine Mammal Science (2022). DOI: 10.1111/mms.12921

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    $\begingroup$ Not sure if playback gives you an answer to the question if sig. whistle is known or not. However, this is subject to ongoing research in Sarasota Bay. The data I have seen showed that reaction was similar to known or unknown sig. whistle. $\endgroup$
    – WMXZ
    Commented Jun 26, 2022 at 13:20

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