March 7, 2016
There are said to be more than 55 accents in the UK alone, not to mention the thousands found in other countries.
But new research suggests we’re not the only ones who talk to each other in a range of dialects.
After studying long-finned pilot whales, researchers have detected dialect differences similar to the way humans from a specific location have their own vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation.
And they are honing on identifying which dialect comes from which region.
‘Previous studies have classified whale vocalisations mainly based on how humans perceive sounds or which aspects of a sound spectrum they find important, so they may be overlooking audio features that only whales are attuned to,’ the team wrote in its paper.
The team followed six separate groups of long-finned pilot whales, through the waters off the coast of Norway, and recorded several hundred calls from each group.
Instead of individual call identification, the team analysed all calls recorded from a group, quantifying how the sound characteristics changed over time.
The results showed that differences between different groups were significantly larger than differences within a single group.
The researchers suggest a range of reasons for the development of whale dialects.
‘It is important to recognise group members for offspring care, protection against predators, and cooperative social and feeding behaviour,’ they wrote.
Whale and Dolphin Conservation said the scientists used computers to analyse a range of aspects of long-finned pilot whale communication, such as whistles, and then built up a ‘set of rules’ or patterns of communication.
‘Whales have their own cultures of communication, similar to the way a human might pick up an accent, or way of speaking, from parents,’ said WDC
‘The patterns of sounds of the various different groups of pilot whales studied in the waters around Norway indicated that each group ‘talked’ in its own particular way – with its own distinct dialect.’
‘This research is yet another fascinating insight that reveals how these intelligent creatures live in their close social groups, some passing on knowledge from one generation to the next, and why WDC is working towards international recognition of the rights of whales and dolphins.’
Whales aren’t the only marine animal to demonstrate such ‘language’ differences.
Scientists recently discovered dolphins also have regional accents.
Mammals that live in pods in certain areas off the coast of the UK have been spotted communicating with unique sounds.
The experts had already established dolphins off the coast of Wales use unique sounds to identify themselves to each other.
But in November, a group of marine biologists from the Marine Biology Section of Societe Jersiaise in the Channel Islands began studying dolphins in the water around Jersey to determine if these ‘accents’ are more widespread. .
To do this, hydrophones – microphones designed to be used underwater – will be placed in the waters around Jersey, which is home to the UK’s largest resident dolphin population.
They will be fitted with SD cards to record noises, which scientists say will help them identify ‘numbers, species and movements’ of the mammals.
Gareth Jeffreys, of Societe Jersiaise said: ‘Different groups will have different accents.
‘Using these recordings we can understand behaviour, as their clicks will change depending on whether they are feeding or just passing through.
‘We can also use the information to identify species and recognise different groups.
‘So it will give us a better idea about numbers, their behaviour and during what period they are passing by, as opposed to just having reports of sightings – which are still useful.’
He added: ‘The first hydrophone will go in at the St Catherine’s breakwater area, which is a prominent site for dolphins.
‘We could possibly place the second one off the north coast somewhere, as people quite often see common dolphins there, as opposed to bottlenose dolphins. We haven’t decided on the second location yet.’
The work follows a 2007 study which found that a pod of 240 dolphins off Welsh coasts had their own ‘accents’.
It was discovered that their whistle was different to other dolphins around the British Isles.
At the time, project leader Simon Berrow said: ‘We’re really building up a dictionary of a whole range of sounds.
‘There are whistles, clicks, barks, groans and a gunshot sound which they might use to stun their prey.
‘We’re trying to associate whistle types with different forms of behaviour – like foraging, resting, socialising and communicating with their young.
‘One was distinctive and exclusive to the dolphins of Cardigan Bay.’