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Whistling humans may help us understand dolphins
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Whistling humans may help us understand dolphins

You can whistle while you work

Are you a good whistler? It’s not easy for some people to do while others have no problem whistling a tune.

Whistling isn’t just a way to annoy people with a tune that gets stuck in their head. More than 80 different cultures use whistling to communicate across long distances, mostly in the mountains or forest. People developed this ability since whistles often carry farther and are easier to understand than shouting.

Farmers may whistle to be heard across fields. Hunters whistle to help them capture prey without scaring the animal away. Lovers are also known to whistle to each other in a language only they may understand.

Humans aren’t the only animals who whistle. A zoo orangutan learned how to whistle the same tune as its keeper. In the wild, some big apes use leaves to make whistling noises.

Bottlenose dolphins also use high-pitched sounds to talk to each other. These dolphins have a very big brain relative to their body size, just like us. They are found in warmer waters around the world and capture our attention with their ability to learn tasks at water parks.

Now scientists think they may be able to understand what dolphins are saying by using human whistling as a clue.

Why do we whistle? Some scientists think ancient humans may have talked through whistles before developing their vocal chords enough to allow speech. If that’s the case, whistling would be our oldest form of language.

— Brett French, french@billingsgazette.com

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