By Dr. Jason Bruck
Researchers at the University of St. Andrews are looking into whether or not dolphins can label objects in their environment the way they label each other with signature whistles (calls that function like names for dolphins). For years the popular media and the press have speculated about such abilities in dolphins, and now scientists are tackling this issue. Alina Loth, a PhD student at the University of St. Andrew’s Sea Mammal Research Unit, has begun a project in which she and her team will use sound-emitting objects to determine if dolphins will use the object’s sound as a label for the object. This is a brilliant solution for a problem that has stumped scientists for years. Unfortunately, this type of technology is expensive and your help is need to finance the endeavor. Alina is raising funds for this important project through Science Starter. She has produced a video to help explain the importance of her project and describe some of her methods.
The website for donations is in German, but it has been translated it for you in this helpful .PDF guide. If you have any questions, please email them to, name, at email.
As the ocean becomes increasingly noisy, one major goal in conservation is to understand how human-generated noise is affecting ocean animals and one major focus is on noise impacts sea animal acoustic communication. Alina’s project will not just help us understand if humans are unique in their ability to assign “names” to objects, but may provide evidence that noise control is necessary in areas populated by wild dolphins.
Dr. Bruck is a Marie Curie Research Fellow at the Scottish Oceans Institute of the University of St. Andrews. He has worked with several marine mammal species both in the wild and under human care. Dr. Bruck is a specialist in marine mammal cognition and communication, and his work on dolphin memory has been featured by National Geographic, Discovery Channel, Washington Post, NPR, BBC and TIME. He has presented his research at multiple conferences of the Society for Marine Mammalogy, the Animal Behavior Society and at the 169th meeting of the Acoustical Society of America.