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Here in the BoingBoing newsroom, we are dedicated to keeping you informed on the latest developments in cetacean friendship. You already know that dolphins and whales hang out and, in fact, play together

Now, some more awesome news: Dolphins apparently have a system of identifying themselves to each other similar to the way you and I use names.

Scientists have actually known since the 1960s that this system existed. Basically, each dolphin creates their own "signature" whistle when they're very young. In studies of captive dolphins, they used this whistle mainly when they got separated from the rest of the group. It was like a way of saying, "Hey, I'm over here!" Or, given the environment, perhaps some version of "Marco! Polo!"

But at Not Exactly Rocket Science, Ed Yong writes about a new study of wild dolphins that has really increased our understanding of signature whistles and how dolphins use them.

Quick and Janik recorded the calls of swimming dolphin pods using underwater microphones. From 11 such recordings, they worked out that dolphin groups use their signature whistles in greeting rituals, when two groups meet and join. Only 10 per cent of such unions happen without any signature whistles. And the dolphins use their signatures nine times more often during these interactions than during normal social contact.
The signature whistles clearly aren’t contact calls, because dolphins hardly ever use them within their own groups. Mothers and calves, for example, didn’t exchange signature whistles when travelling together. And they’re not confrontational claims over territory, because bottlenose dolphins don’t have territories.

Instead, Janik thinks that dolphins use the whistles to identify themselves, and to negotiate a new encounter. The human equivalent would be saying, “My name is Ed. I come in peace.”

Quick and Janik also found that the dolphins don’t mimic each other’s signatures when they meet up. Justin Gregg from the Dolphin Communication Project says, “In other words, dolphins are not shouting out “Hey there Jerry” to each other, they are saying “it’s me, Tim!” He adds, “We really have no idea when or why they use these whistles. This study has uncovered a brand new function for the signature whistle, which makes it rather exciting. They appear to be identifying themselves to social partners after a prolonged separation.”

Read the rest at Not Exactly Rocket Science


Image: Dolphins, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from hassanrafeek's photostream

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by Claire O'Neill

A while back, I stumbled across a mysterious school of photos, as it were, somewhere, way out at Internet sea. They were mysterious and magical scenes of underwater flora and fauna; schools of fish, sharks, coral clusters and free-divers — all black-and-white and glowing in underwater light.

Mark Under Breaking Wave
Wayne Levin

Mark Under Breaking Wave

I spent more time fishing around on the photographer's site and thought: I'll wait for the day when I have an excuse to contact him. The photographer, Wayne Levin, now has a new book, called Akule, and I wanted to know more. He agreed to share a wide selection of his work and answer a few questions.

Some background: Levin received a Brownie camera for this 12th birthday; later received an M.F.A. in 1982; somewhere in there he moved to Hawaii and is still there today. He has been exhibited and published widely around the world but ultimately feels most comfortable in scuba gear.


Underwater Photos

The Picture Show: Describe the underwater universe.

Wayne Levin: I titled my first book of underwater photograph, Through a Liquid Mirror, which was a play on Through the Looking Glass. Just like Alice, who passes through a mirror and finds herself in a world where things are different (even the rules of logic have changed), when I pass through that mirror called the surface, I am equally in another world.

Things look different, visibility is more limited, and the atmosphere has more weight, density. Moving through this world is like flying; you can move in three dimensions, and be suspended above or below things. There are plants and animals, which are different from what we are used to seeing; they move differently. This all creates a possibility to take photographs that look different from anything I have seen before.

I feel a sense of freedom, and I can feel myself relax, and my bodily functions slow down as I leave the anxieties of the human world behind. But the ocean has its own dangers. ... So there is a freedom in being underwater, but also a responsibility to always be aware of your surroundings, and yourself.

Surfacing Freedivers
Wayne Levin

Surfacing Freedivers

What came first for you — photography or fish?

Photography. Most underwater photographers are divers first, then they get into photography to capture the beautiful scenes they see underwater. I was a photographer first. My first serious underwater photography was when I finished graduate school at Pratt in 1983. I returned to Hawaii to teach photography at University of Hawaii, and decided to photograph surfers from underwater. My first attempts where in color, but the results were very murky blue-on-blue. The I switched to black-and-white, and everything came alive.

The black-and-white abstracted the ocean, so the viewer wasn't sure if the figures were suspended in water or sky. After photographing the surfers for a couple of years I went back to terrestrial projects. It wasn't until I moved to Kona in 1989 that I became immersed in underwater photography.

Can you describe some of the sights and sounds of that world?

If it's whale season in Kona (winter), you can often hear the humpbacks singing. Sometimes you hear dolphin clicking and chirping if they're around. If you're near the shore, you can hear the sound of surf crashing on the rocks. Or if there are boats around, you hear the very loud and pervasive sound of their engines.

Visually, in Kona you often glide over beautiful coral gardens, or sand channels with amazing sand patterns. When I'm way off the coast in deep water ... I look down and see the light rays disappearing into the bottomless deep blue abyss.

Akule Pyramid
Wayne Levin

Akule Pyramid

Could you talk a bit about Akule? What does the word mean?

Akule is the Hawaiian name for big-eyed scad, a fish that reaches about 8 feet and schools in huge, tightly packed groups. I was photographing Spinner Dolphins in Kealakekua Bay (infamous as the place where Capt. Cook was killed).

Column of Akule
Wayne Levin

Column of Akule

When swimming out to photograph the dolphins I saw what first appeared to be a huge coral head. But as I approached it, I could see movement within the shape. ... I found that it was a massive school of fish. I took a few pictures, then swam on to find the dolphins.

As time passed every once in a while I would spot these Akule schools on my swims in Kealakekua Bay. Finally, I realized that these schools were an even more interesting photographic subject than the dolphins. So over the next 10 years I shot hundreds of rolls of film of the Akule schools.

You can see more of Levin's work, including a gallery of fish schools, on his website.

Tags: scuba, Fish, Hawaii

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