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Science

Dolphin Memories Span At Least 20 Years 110

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the how's-it-going-bob dept.
sciencehabit writes "A new study reveals that bottlenose dolphins can remember each other's signature contact whistles — calls that function as names — for more than 20 years, the longest social memory ever recorded for a nonhuman animal. 'The ability to remember individuals is thought to be extremely important to the "social brain,"' says Janet Mann, a marine mammal biologist at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., who was not involved in the research. Yet, she notes, no one has succeeded in designing a test for this talent in the great apes — our closest kin — let alone in dolphins."
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Dolphin Memories Span At Least 20 Years

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    we can always check the oldest entry in his journal

  • by eksith (2776419) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @01:58PM (#44500059) Homepage
    ...we'd be in so much trouble. It seems like there's a never ending list of surprises from these creatures.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @02:21PM (#44500393)

      Even if they had thumbs, I think they'd have a hard time discovering fire. ;)

    • Re: (Score:1, Redundant)

      ...we'd be in so much trouble. It seems like there's a never ending list of surprises from these creatures.

      You think you're so special because you have thumbs and built cities and cars and rockets and all that. The dolphins, meanwhile, think they're special... because they didn't have to do any of that.

    • by MozeeToby (1163751) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @02:23PM (#44500417)

      "Man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons."

      I doubt they'd give us much trouble really, too busy mucking about having a good time.

      • by morgauxo (974071)

        If that were true then they would realize that we were getting in the way of their ability to muck about and have a good time. Consider the dolphin slaughters http://www.takepart.com/article/2013/03/04/taiji-2013 [takepart.com] and our general tendency to pollute the water they have their good time in. If they were really that intelligent then by now they would be at least working on the ability to wage war... against us!

    • by Smauler (915644)

      It seems like there's a never ending list of surprises from these creatures.

      I don't find this surprising at all... I'd always assumed that the more intelligent mammals remembered stuff. My dog certainly remembers people he's not seen for years (though anyone who knows him would hesitate to classify him as intelligent). Elephants are noted for it too, and I'm surprised there isn't evidence they remember longer than 20 years.

  • by h4rr4r (612664) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @01:59PM (#44500081)

    How is this surprising?

    If my cat can remember the sound of my car I would hope a dolphin could do this.

    • for 20 years ?
      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        I don't think the cat will live that long.
        I would assume any animal that lives multiples of that should be able to do so. I can recognize voices I have not heard for a decade. Why would animals that have such long lifespans not be able too? I would have been more surprised by the opposite outcome.

        • I think animals have much shorter memories than us. There are horses next to my parents' place. I go feed and scrub them every time I'm there (they're abandoned, which is scandalous, almost starved to death last winter), which varies widely: I housesit for a few weeks in the summer, then come for a few days at a time every few weeks. When I'm there for a while, their behaviour changes: the white mare starts running as soon as she sees me, and gets more aggressive about blocking my exit if she thinks she ha
      • by loufoque (1400831)

        A cat doesn't live for 20 years.

    • You're deluding yourself. Your furry parasite can't remember anything except his cold, unrelenting loathing for all humans and you in particular.
    • by azav (469988)

      You, human. You are the bringer of food.

  • Crap (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I should probably apologize for a few things, then.

  • by sinkasapa (2587241) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @02:07PM (#44500169)

    Dolphins don't use personal names.

    See "Dolphin naming?" by Mark Liberman
    http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/003127.html [upenn.edu]

    And "Dolphins using personal names, again" by Geoffrey K. Pullum
    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=5453 [upenn.edu]

    A choice quote:

    Now, think about that. If you call out "Geoff Pullum!" in a crowded street, and I'm there within earshot, I'm likely to turn round and look at you. But what I am not likely to do is yell "Geoff Pullum!" back at you.

    Why can't dolphins do intelligent and interesting things without people applying unfounded anthropomorphic qualities to their behavior?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      On the other hand, if a voice I recognize yells "ping!" in a crowded street, I will turn around and yell "ping!" back.

      If I don't recognize the voice, not so much.

      • On the other hand, if a voice I recognize yells "ping!" in a crowded street, I will turn around and yell "ping!" back.

        If I don't recognize the voice, not so much.

        The correct reply is "pong!".

        • On the other hand, if a voice I recognize yells "ping!" in a crowded street, I will turn around and yell "ping!" back.

          If I don't recognize the voice, not so much.

          The correct reply is "pong!".

          I'm sorry, we were looking for "Destination host unreachable..." ;-)

        • by Manfre (631065)

          On the other hand, if a voice I recognize yells "ping!" in a crowded street, I will turn around and yell "ping!" back.

          If I don't recognize the voice, not so much.

          The correct reply is "pong!".

          The judges would also accept "Fire torpedoes!"

    • by femtobyte (710429) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @02:43PM (#44500715)

      "Is there a Jeff Pullum here?"
      "Yep, Jeff Pullum, right over here!"

      The protocol actually makes a lot of sense --- especially in a crowded street (or dolphin pod), where lots of people are calling out at once. If you just answered "here!," it would be easy to confuse with a bunch of other people answering "here!" to other calls for their own names. This mechanism provides a clear two-way authentication handshake that your response is directed specifically back to the initial caller (without needing to know their name). Just because it's not the protocol that you use, doesn't mean it's not a perfectly good idea.

      • I hope it was clear from the article that this is specifically about whether this communication fits with the human language concept of a proper name. It does seem like a fine way to communicate one's presence but there is much more to what constitutes a proper name in language.

        • by femtobyte (710429)

          I read the article, and agree that "responding when your sound is made" doesn't prove this is a name. But, it sure doesn't disprove it's a name (or even provide slight evidence against) either (since, as noted by posters below, there are plenty of examples where humans use names this way too); that was a silly muddled piece of logic by an author less clever than they thought. To test for "nameness," one would still need to check whether other dolphins do call out each others' sounds, perhaps even in "conver

    • And how is your choice quote not anthropomorphic?
    • by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @03:14PM (#44501187) Homepage

      A choice quote:

      Now, think about that. If you call out "Geoff Pullum!" in a crowded street, and I'm there within earshot, I'm likely to turn round and look at you. But what I am not likely to do is yell "Geoff Pullum!" back at you.

      Why can't dolphins do intelligent and interesting things without people applying unfounded anthropomorphic qualities to their behavior?

      Um... that's exactly what the author you quote does - assumes that since humans wouldn't do it, dolphins wouldn't do it either.
       
      As kind of a side note, the behavior he claims humans don't do is much like how we often communicated in the Navy when we couldn't see or look at the person we wanted to talk to.... If I was doing something I couldn't take my eyes off of or needed to get the attention of someone who was in earshot but not in sight, I'd call out "Clark!", and the expected rely was "Clark, Aye!" - indicating that he's heard me and was paying attention.

      • Um... that's exactly what the author you quote does - assumes that since humans wouldn't do it, dolphins wouldn't do it either.

        The point the author was making wasn't to contest that dolphins are doing something different than humans. His point was to emphasize that dolphins are doing something different than humans.

        Apparently, dolphins have a means of verbally recognizing one another and nothing is being disputed about that. The quote was intended as an amusing way of pointing out how what dolphins are doin

        • The point the author was making wasn't to contest that dolphins are doing something different than humans. His point was to emphasize that dolphins are doing something different than humans.

          The quote was intended as an amusing way of pointing out how what dolphins are doing is different from the human use of proper names.

          Except, as myself and another poster demonstrated, humans in analogous circumstances do behave like that. The author completely and utterly failed to consider the context of the environme

    • by compro01 (777531)

      One might reply "This is Geoff Pullum" or similar if you're using a phone, radio, or some other form of audio-only communication.

    • by Beorytis (1014777)

      I'm glad I'm not the only one posting LL to /.

    • Why can't dolphins do intelligent and interesting things without people applying unfounded anthropomorphic qualities to their behavior?

      On the same token, who said the anthropomorphic being applied aren't unfounded? There is a lot of evidence out there to support the fact that some animals aren't "dumb" so it's not unreasonable to speculate that some of them might be capable of communicating using mechanisms that we could both anthropomorphise and be complete incapable of understanding.

      With regards to the argument that the "Language Log" is trying to make about signature whistles not acting like names, well, they are guilty of assuming th

      • For all intensive purposes

        "For all intents and purposes"...

        I understand a lot of the illiteracy in the world, that one has always puzzled me...

        • I understand a lot of the illiteracy in the world, that one has always puzzled me...

          Pointing such things out does not make you appear couth, but rather more of a churl.

  • Don't borrow money from dolphins. They will never let you forget it.
    Don't ask bed bugs to help you move. They end up crashing at your place.
    Don't hold hands with the armadillo. He's got leprosy.

  • by Joiseybill (788712) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @02:24PM (#44500431)
    With the conservative life span of current magnetic media at between 10-20 years, and (average) optical CD/ DVDs considerably less, the NSA has begun a pilot program code named "Faa love Pa" While the acronym is not clear, the Senate Intel Cmte. lauded this as a "green" initiative, and is encouraging tuna fisheries to collect living dolphins for use in the project. Dolphin memory lasts 20 years or more, reducing the need for additional rare-earth metals and greatly reduced electricity consumption. Dolphin memory is self-replicating, tolerant to mild EMF and power fluctuations, and primarily only requires renewable resources such as salt water and baitfish. The only technical hurdles researchers see are effectively encoding/decoding the massive amounts of illegally gathered data into dolphin-discrete packages, and the bandwidth needed to read/write operations. Researchers have not yet determined the optimal facility size, nor how the pods will best perform in cohesive groups. Dolphins are also ill-suited for complex elliptic-curve cryptography, opting instead for elliptic-curve swimming. Dolphin computing is not new. Natural behaviors include computing standards like PUSH and JUMP, and many have been trained to perform parallel operations. Those animals sourced from Chinese waters will be culled from the "pool" for security reasons. Another feature is the reduced disposal requirements. When the new dolphin media is replaced, old media is effectively rendered useless to forensic recovery techniques, and can be disposed of to feed other animals or in simple 'compost' rather than more costly recycling efforts.
  • Does having an ARP Cache mean that my switch is a highly sophisticated social animal?

  • I could be wrong about this, but if I remember correctly, elephants can remember other elephants and humans for longer than 20 years. So I don't think this is "the longest recorded..." anything.
    • I could be wrong about this

      You probably are.

      While elephants are also reputed to have extremely long memories of up to 20 years, there is little scientific evidence of their abilities outside of family relationships. In this research paper, the dolphins were able to remember family members as well as strangers.

      • "You probably are."

        And so are you.

        "... there is little scientific evidence of their abilities outside of family relationships..."

        Fine. But OP and TFA say "the longest social memory ever recorded for a nonhuman animal".

        Which makes your argument a straw-man; they say nothing about "family".

        • by wonkey_monkey (2592601) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @04:55PM (#44502331) Homepage
          Actually this was the part of the quote I was really looking at:

          While elephants are also reputed to have extremely long memories of up to 20 years

          "Reputed" implies that there's not much scientific evidence of this at all, with regard to either family or strangers.

          • "'Reputed' implies that there's not much scientific evidence of this at all, with regard to either family or strangers."

            No it doesn't. Look it up. "Reputed" means they have that reputation. There is no implication of falsity and no relation whatever to the presence or absence of evidence.

            • There is no implication of falsity and no relation whatever to the presence or absence of evidence.

              And my claim that there is "not much scientific evidence of this" does not mean there's no evidence either way, either, and I haven't inferred that it's false.

              The scientific dolphin study is a definite, objective, presence of evidence, which I'd say makes it more worthy of attention than a reputation.

  • That means, that I'll have to return those herrings after all.

  • Parrots (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mbone (558574) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @02:51PM (#44500847)

    In my experience, parrots never forget people they associate with (that's easiest to show when they have a certain call they make for a given person; I've known parrots to make such calls after years of separation).

    Alex the parrot lived 31 years. I bet he never forgot a grad student, and that data showing that are buried in Pepperberg's work.

    • In my experience,

      So not a scientific experiment performed by professional scientists under carefully controlled conditions, then...

      I've known parrots to make such calls after years of separation.

      How many years?

      Alex the parrot lived 31 years. I bet he never forgot a grad student, and that data showing that are buried in Pepperberg's work.

      I bet he did forget. I can't be bothered to go and check either, though.

      • by mbone (558574)

        In my experience,

        So not a scientific experiment performed by professional scientists under carefully controlled conditions, then...

        The plural of anecdotes is astronomy, so this doesn't bother me. I know how to make observations.

        I've known parrots to make such calls after years of separation.

        How many years?

        Roughly four years without question, but I wasn't trying to set any records. The interesting thing was

        - the parrot had a distinctive call for a particular person (they liked to goof on each other)
        - the person had been a border, left, and came back to say hello. He didn't leave on the best of terms, and was not given to dropping by, but we had a visitor he
        wanted to see.
        - We had all forgotten about

  • I think it's been demonstrated that elephants have long memories. I recall a story about two elephants greeting each other like old friends when they hadn't seen each other for over 20 years.

  • Sugar (Score:5, Interesting)

    by azav (469988) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @03:19PM (#44501263) Homepage Journal

    When a wee pup in yon '70s of yore, my family would sometimes go down to Key West where we would stay at a hotel with a mini golf course and an enclosed lagoon with a trained dolphin.

    As a whelp, (yes, that's the correct spelling) I would do nothing else but stand by the dolphin pool watching, or play mini golf.

    After I had become a regular by the edge of the pool, every so often Sugar the dolphin would come up to me and click and wave a little and bob her head back, as if she was saying, "come on in!" I was simply entranced to be there and that a dolphin was paying attention to me.

    The next year after we showed up and I took my place on the edge of the lagoon, it only took 1/2 an hour before Sugar stopped, turned around in the water, swam over to me and greeted me as if she actually remembered me from the year before. Honestly, I'd expected her to have remembered "me" sooner, but I was happy none the less that a dolphin seemed to know and remember me.

    Sadly, we weren't able to go back the next summer, but the year after that we did. Eager to see if my friend Sugar remembered me, I stood by the pool for about an hour or two, knowing that she would come over when she realized it was me.

    No dice.

    No reaction at all.

    I was a sad panda. An ignored sad panda.

    This totally was a downer for me, and I realized that I might be wrong, that dolphins don't remember and aren't able to make out specific people. This was still on my mind the next morning when my parents and I walked off to breakfast and neared Sugar's lagoon.

    Before I could even get close to the pool, I could see Sugar turn towards me, zip over to the side of the pool near me clicking and bobbing her head, making quite a fuss, telling me "I can't believe that was you yesterday and I didn't even remember you! Welcome back! It's great to see you again little monster! Come on in!"

    One hell of a great creature she was.

    • I'm guessing that doesn't wouldn't have much (if any) a sense of smell. Hearing somebody outside of water might be a bit harder too. Looks, especially when one is young, could change a lot.

      Sounds like, given what she had to work with, this dolphin had a better memory than I do :-)

    • by gsslay (807818)

      Another interpretation would be that the dolphin sometimes approached people at the pool edge and made noises.

      Sometimes those people would give the dolphin fish.

      Everything else is only a product of your "as if"s.

  • I clearly recall seeing a documentary about an elephant taken to the Tennessee Elephant Sanctuary [elephants.com]. She instantly recognized another elephant that she had not seen in over twenty years. The keepers had planned to keep her in an isolation cage for a few days, but they had to let her out early because she was damaging the cage in an effort to be reunited. She did not have the same reaction to elephants that she had never previously contacted. I wish I could find a link. Hold on, here it is [elephants.com].

  • What a great life - get grants to hang out in Bermuda every year. Soak up some sun, play with dolphins. Publish a scientific paper every now and then.

    That's loads better than my job. : (
  • Try 150 years (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Gothmolly (148874) on Wednesday August 07, 2013 @04:14PM (#44501921)

    Arctic bowhead whales live 150-200 years. One of the reason they're so shy around humans is that THEY REMEMBER BEING WHALED. Obviously these are the ones who got away, but over a century later these things are still swimming around.

  • There was a documentary a couple years ago about the 1970s seminal work done with Nim when he was just chimpling. Nim was discarded when (1) he became an unruly adolescent and (2) the principal investigator decided chimps werent really using language (contaversial). After several intermediate owners they tracked down Nim, now a gray-haired middle age. And seemed to recognize his human friends from the 1970s.

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