What happens when two dolphins rapidly swim toward the same piece of food? Without some avoidance feature, bottlenose dolphins would become “bashed-nose” dolphins, or worse.

Fortunately, dolphins do have a solution–specialized communication. Where did this capability come from?

Researchers from the Italian Institute for Research on Bottlenose Dolphins in Sardinia, Italy, have compiled the most comprehensive analysis of dolphin-talk to date, publishing their study in the technical book Dolphins: Anatomy, Behavior and Threats.1

While whistles had been thought to be the main method of dolphin vocalization, the new findings show that an even more important set of sounds are “burst-pulsed.” The complexity of these more subtle signals shows clearly “our lack of understanding about the communication of these marine mammals.”1

When multiple dolphins are approaching the same food source, complicated communication using burst-pulsed sounds ensures that the dominant dolphin receives the right of way and gets the food without collision. This has been called “diplomacy,” since it allows these marine mammals to avoid physical conflict.1 This research may benefit the ongoing extension of the realm of biomimetics from copying physical designs found throughout creation to copying immaterial designs, like traffic flow algorithms,2 travel routes,3 and now perhaps interpersonal communication skills….

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