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Thursday, August 6, 2009

New Zealand bottlenose dolphins abbreviate body language...

We learn something new every day in the wonderful world of marine animals...

Spanish and British researchers have shown that New Zealand bottlenose dolphins abbreviate their body language, just as humans shorten commonly-used words.

Dolphins slapping their tails, diving, flopping sideways, and performing other movements when surface swimming, appear to use the same "linguistic economy" in their swimming movements, according to the researchers.

"Patterns of dolphin behaviour at the surface obey the same law of brevity as human language, with both seeking out the simplest and most efficient codes," said Dr Ramon Ferrer i Cancho, from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia, in Spain.

This "law of brevity" proposed by linguists holds that the most frequently used words, such as "the" and "but", are also the shortest.

Although dolphins communicate mostly by means of audible clicks and whistles, experts believe they also employ body language when swimming close to one another.

Ferrer i Cancho studied Fiordland bottlenose dolphins in Fiordland's Doubtful Sound with a British colleague Dr David Lusseau, from Aberdeen University. Their report, Efficient Coding in Dolphin Surface Behavioural Patterns, has just been published in a science journal, Complexity.

The scientists found that each movement pattern made by the creatures could be broken down into one or more of four basic units. For example, the "tail slap" pattern could be divided up into three sub-movements given the names "slap", "tail" and "two".

A pattern called "spy hop" was made up of the units "stop", "expose", and "head". In contrast, the "side flop" pattern only comprised "leap" and "side", while a movement dubbed "tailstock dive" consisted of only one unit, the "dorsal arch".

In total the researchers counted more than 30 patterns of behaviour and their related units.

Dolphins executed many behaviour patterns made up of just one unit, and far fewer composed of four units.

"The simple and efficient behaviour strategies of dolphins are similar to those used by humans with words, and are the same as those used, for example, when we reduce the size of a photographic or video image in order to save space," Ferrer i Cancho said.

Acknowledgements TV ONE News.

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