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New experiments show that bottlenose dolphins can remember whistles of other dolphins they'd lived with after 20 years of separation. The new research shows that dolphins have the longest memory yet known in any species other than people.
Bruck came up with the idea to study animal memory when his brother's dog, usually wary of male strangers, remembered and greeted him four years after last seeing him.
Bruck studied dolphins because their social bonds are extremely important and because there are good records for captive dolphins (as opposed to wild ones). He first played recordings of lots of unfamiliar whistles to the dolphins in the study until the subjects got bored and stopped inspecting the underwater speaker making the sounds.


When the dolphins heard these familiar whistles, they would perk up and approach the speakers, often whistling their own name and listening for a response. Overall, the dolphins responded more to animals they'd known decades ago than to random animalsa€”suggesting they recognized their former companions, according to the study, published recently in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. And one set of cheeky young dolphins swam up to Bruck and started whistling the names of the dominant males in their group in order of rank, perhaps suggesting the names they wanted to hear, Bruck said. Why dolphinsa€”which live an average of 20 years in the wilda€”need long-term memory is still unknown. Each dolphin has a unique whistle that functions like a name, allowing the marine mammals to keep close social bonds.


Elephants and chimpanzees are thought to have similar abilities, but they haven't yet been tested, said study author Jason Bruck, an animal behaviorist at the University of Chicago.
The animals loved participating in the experiment so much that they'd often hover over the speaker, blocking the noise.
But it may have to do with maintaining relationships, since over time dolphin groups often break up and reorganize into new alliances.



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