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Unique Howls Are What Wolves Use As Names 96

notscientific writes "Each wolf has a unique howl, which scientists can now decipher through voice recognition (audio), allowing them to identify wolves individually. The scientists developed sound analysis code that can tell which wolf is howling with 100% accuracy. Previously, pitch was used to tell wolves apart, but these only achieved a relatively low accuracy rate. This sound analysis is important because it could well give researchers the first proper way to effectively monitor wolves in the wild. Interestingly, this research comes after the recent finding that dolphins have names for one another. In the case of wolves, their howls are essentially their names."
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Unique Howls Are What Wolves Use As Names

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  • by fullon604 ( 895424 ) on Thursday July 25, 2013 @04:11AM (#44378655)
    Reminds me of this far side cartoon -- []
    • by Immerman ( 2627577 ) on Thursday July 25, 2013 @10:49AM (#44381065)

      Great, so they've learned to recognize individual wolf voices, what does that have to do with names? A name, like any noun, is an abstract representation of someone(thing) not present. Dolphins each have a distinct whistle that other dolphins use to attract their attention - which seems an awful lot like a name to me. In this case all they've done is figure out which wolf is "talking", and recognizing the voices of important individuals is something we know pretty much every vocal species does - parents and offspring almost always, and often mates and other family members as well.

      Oh, and sorry for hijacking your comment.

      • I think they DO have names!

        Thurston Howell III and "Lovey" Howell are two, that come to mind.

      • I didn't RTFA, but I could see them proving it's a name fairly easily. For example, when a family has 2 dogs for a while, and one dies, the other dog is quite visibly affected by their death. If the next night, you hear the living dog using the howl that the now-dead dog normally used, you could quite easily say they're calling a name.
        • by Immerman ( 2627577 ) on Thursday July 25, 2013 @11:37AM (#44381735)

          Right. Or maybe it's like a child singing his mother's lullaby to himself after she's gone. You can *say* anything you want, but you need a strong evidence to make a scientific claim.

          A more solid case would be Wolf A using Wolf B's howl to get Wolf B's attention and nobody else's, like dolphins do with their identifying whistles. Dirt simple solid argument, which has nothing whatsoever to do with the technological development discussed in the article. Well, other than the fact that the ability to identify individual wolves from their howl will make it much easier to listen in on their "conversations" and discover things like name usage, *if* it exists.

          • If it's like a child's lullaby, or just a remembrance of their likeness, it's far more impressive than it being a name. :)
            • How so? A name would seem to suggest some level of abstract reasoning - a "lullaby" or other remembrance would only seem to suggest an emotional response to the death of a loved one and some capability of mimicry, and we've pretty well established that most vertebrates appear to possess emotions much like our own, and many of the "higher" animals appear to grieve over the death of a loved one and can learn through mimicry.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      So what's the bloody point of linking to a short URL "service"? This isn't twitter you fucknut. Just link to the URL directly: []
      In fact, that's easier than making a short URL to link to. I think you must be insane.

  • by auric_dude ( 610172 ) on Thursday July 25, 2013 @04:12AM (#44378663)
    Wolf howl identification technology excites experts [] and on a lighter note Wolves Munch Watermelons to Beat the Heat: Photos [] via []
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 25, 2013 @04:15AM (#44378677)

    Because imitating each others' howls would sound like a very confusing thing to do.

    • Maybe they are not as lazy as humans, and when they want to meet someone they walk instead of calling and waiting.
    • by Joce640k ( 829181 ) on Thursday July 25, 2013 @06:03AM (#44379043) Homepage

      Because imitating each others' howls would sound like a very confusing thing to do.

      Um, they don't call each other, they just listen to know who else is in the area.

      PS: This is a junk article that's just tagging along on the dolphin story (which is interesting/new). Pretty much all group animals can recognize others by sound (parents/babies need to find each other in crowds).

      • Indeed, they've learned to recognize wolf voices. Unlike the case with dolphin signature whistles this has nothing whatsoever to do with names.

    • Keep in mind, they never said that the wolves can understand the unique calls. They just said that they are unique. The wolves probably can't tell the difference.
      • by Oligonicella ( 659917 ) on Thursday July 25, 2013 @09:43AM (#44380239)
        Oh, please. Calls are at the top of their communications methodologies. They have self-identifying calls for a reason and it's not over-vocalized introspection.

        Your statement would be like saying that although you have a unique # here on ./ and it appears on all your self-identified posts, others really can't read it.
      • No, they said the wolves have unique calls - aka voices. I'd bet that each wolf is perfectly capable of recognizing the voices of those important to them, just like we can recognize the voice of a loved one even in a crowded bar where we can't understand their words.

        It has has nothing whatsoever to do with names though - that's just sensationalism.

      • Open your ears mate, even in the city the birds are talking to each other all day long. It's how they stay together in a stable social group without being on top of each other. Their language may not be as flexible as human language but announcing or responding to a "name" is a basic need for all social animals. Still I find these studies interesting because of the evidence they present on different species of social animals. Also I had a retriever many moons ago that knew the difference between a "sing" co
        • Dogs can allegedly understand around 170-400 human words, give or take depending on the breed.
          Anyway, I heard from a reliable source on the internet that all birds are actually saying "Ooh, it's 4:00 AM. Time to not shut the fuck up!"
          • I turn into a wolf every full moon, and I know at least 170 words. Except nmy dermatologist not only doesn't want me going out in sunlight, now he's saying I need to worry about moonlight.

  • by plankrwf ( 929870 ) on Thursday July 25, 2013 @04:16AM (#44378681)

    A name is something OTHERS use to identify you. If I read the summary right (no need to read that article), they are not suggesting that OTHER wolves are imitating a howl to identify another wolf.
    Said differently: the howl is like a fingerprint (although an audible one) in that it can be used to identify the owner of said howl.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      unless they're really self-centered and they just keep shouting their names

    • I think the implication is that they can recognize each other by the howl.

      I guess something like "Hear that? Its Arooooogaaaaahgrumble! , and it sounds like he's found an old sock!"

      • I think the implication is that they can recognize each other by the howl.

        I think that's your (and the headline writer's) inference - I don't think it's being implied by anyone.

        Think of it like getting 50 people to stand on a hill and shout "Get off my hill!" A computer could probably be programmed to tell those about, too, but it wouldn't make them names.

      • The idea of a name is that you can use it to refer to a third party even when that party isn't present, ie. imitating another's 'fingerprint' so that you can be sure you are both referring to the same person. The wolves don't do that, they are just capable of recognising certain howls as belonging to certain owners, much like recognising somebodies face.

      • by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Thursday July 25, 2013 @06:46AM (#44379161) Homepage

        Hear that? Its Arooooogaaaaahgrumble!

        Oh, must be Richard Nixon's head then!

      • Which has precisely zero relevance to names unless a wolf other than Arooooogaaaaahgrumble! used his howl. (Which is the case with our names and dolphin signature whistles) It's more like someone standing on a hill calling out "Come and get it!" and only their family comes in for lunch because they recognized the caller's voice. And even that isn't directly implied by the article, which is only saying that a scientist on the next hill over can record the call and identify who was making it - though it's b

    • Exactly. Regarding the dolphins, Geoffrey Pullum (Prof. Linguistics, U of Edinburgh) covered this here: []
      " 'The researchers found that individuals only responded to their own calls, by sounding their whistle back.'

      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."

    • Odd then, how frequently we select names for ourselves that we wish others to use.
    • A name is something OTHERS use to identify you.

      Exactly. See also this similar criticism of the recent Dolphin "names" story: []

      • That article does absolutely nothing to refute dolphins use of names, except that they don't use them exactly like we do. In fact hepoints out the very fact that they *are* names used by others to get the owner's attention:

        His argument: Dolphin A whistles "B" and Dolphin B whistles back "B", whereas Person A calls out "B" and Person B calls out "what", or crosses the street to talk. But the point is that any dolphin can make a sound that *specifically* gets the attention of B, and no one else. Dolphin B

        • But the point is that any dolphin can make a sound that *specifically* gets the attention of B, and no one else.

          There was no evidence of the above. Instead they found

          The researchers found that individuals only responded to their own calls, by sounding their whistle back.

          To show dolphins have names you would need to find evidence that dolphins mimic each others whistles. You would need to record Dolphin A whistling Dolphin Bs whistle and Dolphin B responding. But they didn't do that.

        • "That article does absolutely nothing to refute dolphins use of names, except that they don't use them exactly like we do." Your second clause refutes your first clause: a name is something that's used in a particular way, either to call to the hearer (as a vocative) or to refer to a third person. (In some languages, and in "motherese", the speaker can also use a name to refer to themselves.) So if they're not using these calls the way we use names, the calls are by definition not names. They may be som

          • Notice the "...exactly like we do". I agree with your point completely, my point is simply that the "refutation" did nothing to attack the use of signal whistles as names, only that dolphin vocabulary/cultural behavior is not an exact match for our own, which is to be expected. If I heard my name called out my first response would not be to call my own name back. A CB operator on the other hand does something very similar "Calling FSM, come in please FSM"... "This is FSM, who is this please?", which cons

  • by wonkey_monkey ( 2592601 ) on Thursday July 25, 2013 @05:07AM (#44378839) Homepage

    Unique Howls Are What Wolves Use As Names

    First of all, strange wording - I'd have gone with "Wolves Use Unique Howls As Names."

    More importantly, no-one - except for a commenter on one of the articles - is suggesting that wolves use these as names. You could get 50 people to stand on a hill and shout "I love monkeys!" and still get a computer to tell them apart, but that wouldn't be a name.

    Even more bizarre is the headline on the linked article:

    Wolves howl like humans, new voice recognition study shows

    Er, what? No they don't. They howl like wolves.

    The scientists developed sound analysis code []

    Might want to fix that link.

  • What would "Bobby" sound like in wolf howl language?
  • by Gothmolly ( 148874 ) on Thursday July 25, 2013 @07:13AM (#44379249)

    Is probably what they're saying most of the time. At the risk of sounding trite, I expect that the return howls are mostly just 'So glad you are!'.

    They're not discussing Plato or the recipe for fondue, they're wolves. If there's any content in the howl it's going to be things like 'I'm hungry!' or 'Who wants some?' or 'Deer party at Blacktail's den!'

    • by Retron ( 577778 ) on Thursday July 25, 2013 @08:01AM (#44379467)

      FWIW, wolves do emit different types of howl - a given wolf won't produce the same howl each time.

      Although nobody can say for sure what the meaning is, wolves will make different types of howl if they're separated from their pack, if they've completed a kill, if they're about to "rally" with the pack and, interestingly, if a wolf dies.

      For general howling, then yes, it's been known about for years that you can identify a given wolf by their howl. My old adopted wolf Kenai (who lived at the same wolf centre as the original research author used for their studies) had a very recognizable two-tone howl.

  • >> their howls are essentially their names

    And the scent of peein' on stuff is their nickname.

    • And the scent of peein' on stuff is their nickname.

      Realistically, it's more like tagging ... "Bob was here, this is my territory"

  • Bad Science (Score:4, Interesting)

    by seyyah ( 986027 ) on Thursday July 25, 2013 @08:53AM (#44379797)

    Dolphin story debunked (twice):
    Dolphin naming? []
    Dolphins using personal names, again []

    I'm going to assume that the wolf story is as much nonsense.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Retron ( 577778 )

      Here's something which I can't explain. Maybe a reader here can shed some light on it?

      Back in 2006 we had three wolf pups at the wolf centre (I became a volunteer after adopting Kenai, mentioned above). They were hand-reared, so were used to people right from the start.

      I decided to do a fun experiment, knowing it'd be the only chance I'd get. Nobody else was this daft!

      * When they were three months of age, I ran away from them in their enclosure. They chased me, but when I zigzagged away from them they gave

      • That's one neat story. Thanks.

        I've no idea, from what little I've read (my intro to wolf culture was Mowat's book and later his original paper and notes) how they develop their various hunting techniques. I'd guess that a few are practised by play, but where the playbook comes from is up for grabs. The idea that anything that complicated can be carried as some sort of gene memory is frowned upon, but it's still an easy thing to pick for an explanation. (How the hell else does a bird know how to build a

    • I don't think you have to assume that there is a little BS here. "Unique Howls Are What Wolves Use As Names" is really misleading when all they are really talking about is being able to recognize individual wolves by their calls. It is like saying that your name is how you pronounce the letter 'r'.

      It may not be bad science so much as a bad presentation of science.

  • by Culture20 ( 968837 ) on Thursday July 25, 2013 @09:41AM (#44380219)
    It's not a name unless a second wolf uses the howl to "talk" about the first wolf to another wolf (even the first wolf in case the second wolf wants a specific wolf to come to its location).
  • you are camping and hear "ooowaaaaaahooooooGary".

  • they keep saying their own names, or referring to themselves in the third person, like Jimmy from Seinfeld. Awesome. Or maybe this is a bullshit story. Awesome.
  • Hello *sniff * sniff * my name is Larry.
    Here's my business turd.
    Sniff me up sometime.
    Meanwhile, between howls, I'll be off on the prairie spit shining my junk.

Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing. -- Wernher von Braun