Human moms and dads often adopt a high-pitched lilt when speaking to their young children, a style called “parentese” that helps improve language learning in little ones. Now, new research has found that bottlenose dolphin mothers use a similar type of baby talk to communicate with their calves, and it may serve the same purpose.
In a study published June 26, scientists recorded the signature whistles — basically audible ID badges — of wild bottlenose dolphins near Florida’s Sarasota Bay over three decades. They found that all 19 of the mother dolphins they studied “produced signature whistles with significantly higher maximum frequencies and wider frequency ranges” when they were with their dependent calves.
This dolphin version of parentese “may function to enhance attention, bonding, and vocal learning in dolphin calves, as it does in human children,” the researchers wrote in the study. Speaking to the Associated Press, co-author Frants Jensen elaborated: “It would make sense if there are similar adaptations in bottlenose dolphins — a long lived, highly acoustic species.”