High-pitched voice, clear pronunciation, and longer pauses between words: when we talk to babies or toddlers, we instinctively change the way we speak and the pitch of our voices. But not only people use the so-called baby talk. Dolphins also communicate differently with their offspring than with adults, as an international team of researchers writes in the journal “Proceedings” of the US National Academy of Sciences (“PNAS”). According to this, bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) change their characteristic whistles when communicating with their calves.

Sometimes called baby talk or motherese, “baby talk” is the typical way people talk to a baby or toddler. According to studies, the special way of speaking can help with language acquisition, among other things. There is very little evidence of similar behavior in animals, the researchers, who work in the US, Italy, Great Britain and Denmark, write in PNAS.

Creation of an emotional bond

In the case of dolphins, the “baby talk” is shown by altered whistles. These whistles can differ greatly due to the sometimes pronounced adjustments in frequency. In this way, they partly resemble the function of human language. The authors of the study assume that the special communication of the dolphin mothers with the offspring could serve to increase the attention, create an emotional bond and promote the vocal learning of the calves.

A population of bottlenose dolphins in Sarasota Bay, a lagoon on the west coast of the US state of Florida, was studied by researchers led by Laela S. Sayigh. The dolphins were temporarily captured for this purpose. The mothers were then alternately housed with their calves or other adult animals. During the gatherings, calves and mothers exchanged whistles almost continuously. The researchers noticed that the mothers whistled at significantly higher maximum frequencies and larger frequency deviations when they were with their calves.