Whale Goes Native in the Dolphin Pool


When captive beluga whale moved to a home where her only companions were dolphins, she adapted quickly. She started imitating the unique whistles of the dolphins, and stopped making a signature beluga call altogether. (Discover)

What are other examples of interspecies communication?

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers Toolkit.

beluga and dolphins
A beautiful beluga gets a heads-up on a pod of bottlenose dolphins.
Photograph courtesy Shutterstock

Discussion Ideas

  • New research documents a fascinating account of interspecies communication between bottlenose dolphins and a beluga whale. What sounds do dolphins use to communicate?
    • echolocation clicks. Echolocation, also known as sonar, describes the ability of some animals to emit high-frequency sounds and determine an object’s distance by the time it takes for those sounds to echo back to the animal. In addition to distance, echolocation allows animals to estimate the size, shape, and velocity of an object. Learn more about “the porpoise of echolocation” with our study guide here.
    • signature whistles. Each bottlenose dolphin has a “signature whistle” developed as a calf and rarely changed in the animal’s life. A signature whistle’s frequency is unique to each dolphin, and most likely used for location and identity purposes—much like a name.
    • various sounds. Scientists describe a variety of sounds emitted by dolphins and mimicked by the beluga: short whistles or squeaks; short pulsed vowel-like sounds; combination “squeak and vowels”; pulsed tonal contact calls; and other pulsed sounds.


  • What sounds do beluga whales use to communicate?
    • According to Discover, belugas “are vocal virtuosos. In addition to their rich repertoire of squeaks, squeals, and other calls, they can imitate other animals and people.”


  • Why might a virtuoso beluga imitate a bottlenose dolphin?
    • They’re neighbors. The captive beluga in question moved from a pool with other belugas to a “dolphinarium” surrounded by bottlenose dolphins.





Discover: Beluga Living with Dolphins Swaps Her Calls for Theirs

Nat Geo: Fish Uses Sign Language With Other Species

(extra credit!) Springer Nature: A beluga whale socialized with bottlenose dolphins imitates their whistles

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