Scientists are teaching themselves to speak dolphinese.
The real-life Dr Doolittles have identified nearly 200 distinct whistles and clicks made by dolphins in the wild - and say they know what half a dozen mean.
The findings highlight once again the intelligence of dolphins, and how humans may not have a monopoly on intelligent conversation. Scroll down for more...
Scientists claim to understand what half-a-dozen dolphin whistles and clicks mean
Liz Hawkins, of the Whale Research Centre at Southern Cross University in New South Wales, Australia, reckons her team has identified 186 different types of dolphin whistles. Of these, 20 are relatively common.
They include a flat-toned whistle made by dolphins as the rode the waves created by Dr Hawkins' boat. The team suspect the noise is the dolphin equivalent of an over-excited child shouting "wheeee".
In a group of dolphins living off Moreton island, Queensland, they identified a whistle made by lonely dolphins when they were on their own.
"That whistle could definitely mean 'I'm here, where is everyone?'," Dr Hawkins told New Scientist magazine.
Dr Hawkins eavesdropped on the group of bottle-nosed dolphins off the Western Coast of Australia for three years. The findings were presented at a conference of the Society for Marine Mammalogy in Cape Town, South Africa this month.
"This communication is highly complex and it is contextual, so in a sense it could be termed a language," she said.
Dolphins have long been known to use "signature whistles" to identity themselves to others. However, the meaning of the other clicks and whistles has been a mystery.
The researchers recorded 1,647 whistles from 51 different pods, or groups, of dolphin in Byron Bay, New South Wales.
Dr Hawkins was able to identify 186 distinct noises from the length and pitch of the sound.
Within these noises, were five groups of similar whistles that went with different types of behaviours. When a group of dolphins was moving, more than half of whistles rose and then fell.
But when they were resting or feeding, they made far fewer whistles of these type. While socialising, they "talked" to each other with flat-toned or rising-toned whistles.
A separate study found that dolphins make more whistles whey they are being hand-fed than dolphins in the wild.
Dr Melinda Rekdahl of the University of Queensland, Brisbane, said it was too early to say whether the whistles were the dolphins way of shouting "hurry up" or "there's food over here". She added: "But it is possible. Dolphin communication is much more complicated than we thought."
Scientists who studied 'dolphinese' claim they are closer to humans than we thought | the Daily Mail