Ever been at a party where you recognize everyone’s faces but can’t think of their names? That wouldn’t happen if you were a bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus). The marine mammals can remember each other’s signature contact whistles—calls that function as names—for more than 20 years, the longest social memory ever recorded for a nonhuman animal, according to a new study.“The ability to remember individuals is thought to be extremely important to the ‘social brain,’ ” says Janet Mann, a marine mammal biologist at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., who was not involved in the research. Yet, she notes, no one has succeeded in designing a test for this talent in the great apes—our closest kin—let alone in dolphins.Dolphins use their signature whistles to stay in touch. Each has its own unique whistle, and they learn and can repeat the whistles of other dolphins. A dolphin will answer when another dolphin mimics its whistle—just as we reply when someone calls our name. The calls enable the marine mammals to communicate over long distances—which is necessary because they live in “fission-fusion” societies, meaning that dolphins in one group split off to join other groups and later return. By whistling, they’re able to find each other again. Scientists don’t know how long dolphins are separated in the wild, but they do know the animals can live almost 50 years. 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The six sites belong to a consortium that rotates the marine mammals for breeding and has decades-long records of which dolphins have lived together. The dolphins ranged in age from 4 months to 47 years and included males and females. Some of the animals had spent as little as 3 months together; others had been housed with each other for as long as 18.5 years before being separated and sent to another facility; and some had been apart for 20.5 years.At each facility, Bruck placed a submerged speaker in the dolphins’ pool and waited for one of the animals to swim past. He then played a recording of a whistle that the dolphin had never heard before. “They don’t pay much attention to signature whistles of dolphins they don’t know,” he says. But when he played the whistle of a dolphin they had once lived with, the animals often swam immediately to the speaker. “They will hover around it, whistle at it, seemingly try to get a response,” he says.Bruck also played recordings of an unfamiliar dolphin that was the same age and sex as the familiar animal—but these also did not elicit much of a response. “It was a striking pattern,” Bruck says. “They were potentially bored by unfamiliar calls but responded to whistles from the animals they’d known,” even if they had not heard the whistles in decades. “It seemed to be stimulating to them. In Bermuda, a mother dolphin even brought her calf over to listen to the whistles of dolphins she’d known,” Bruck says. Sometimes the dolphins got upset, slapping their tails in protest, when Bruck removed the speaker from the pool; but they quickly settled down again after he put it back in the water.In one case, Bruck played the whistle of Allie, a female dolphin at the Brookfield Zoo, for Bailey, a female in Bermuda. They had lived together at the Dolphin Connection in the Florida Keys when Allie was 4 and Bailey was 2. Twenty years and 6 months had passed—yet Bailey instantly recognized Allie’s whistle, Bruck says, as evidenced by her close attentiveness to the speaker.The dolphins often responded as if they were picturing their long-ago social pals, Bruck reports online today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. For instance, two younger dolphins, Kai and D.J., became watchful and alert when they heard the whistles of Lucky and Hastings, two dominant males they had spent time with at the Brookfield Zoo. “Their whistles elicit a certain vigor and spirit in males that hear them,” says Bruck about the responses of Kai and D.J. “It looked as if those whistles put the image of those two dominant males in the heads of Kai and D.J.,” although he adds this has yet to be shown experimentally.The study demonstrates the “long-term stability of the dolphins’ whistles,” Mann says. “Even though dolphins may change in size and physical characteristics—getting scars and speckles—their whistles provide a reliable means of identification.” And that in turn enables them to “track relationships and connections between individuals,” she says. “We know they have relationships in the wild that last decades,” adds Richard Connor, an animal behaviorist at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. “Remembering a particular individual—even in the absence of that individual—could help them navigate their current social milieu.”Bruck’s study, however, did not test whether the dolphins mentally picture the correct dolphin when they hear his or her signature whistle. So far, scientists have only been able to demonstrate this ability in horses. Researchers from the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom videoed individual horses while a herd member was led past them and out of view. The scientists then played the whinny of that horse or of a different horse. If the whinny was from the horse that had just walked by, the watching horse continued doing whatever it had been doing before; but if the whinny came from a different stable-mate, the watcher instantly turned to look in the direction of the call, as if saying, “that didn’t sound like you.”A similar experiment now needs to be done with dolphins, says Stephanie King, a biologist at the University of St. Andrews in the United Kingdom. She wonders if the animals are paying attention to the whistles of their former pool-pals because the sounds are familiar—or because they “evoke a mental representation of the absent animal in the dolphin’s mind.” In other words, does Kai mentally picture Lucky when he hears the dominant male’s brassy whistle erupting from the speaker? Or does he merely register, “That call takes me right back to Chicago.” Stay tuned—Bruck has a test in the works to find out.
Officials broke ground Friday on Vancouver’s VA campus for the nation’s 67th Fisher House — which means they’ve learned something since 1990 about building them.A Fisher House is a home away from home for families of veterans or service personnel who are being treated at a military or a Veterans Affairs hospital.One of the original Fisher Houses was built near Washington, D.C., at what now is Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. It didn’t take long to recognize an oversight, David Coker, president of the Fisher House Foundation, said.“A soldier had lost his legs and he was wheeled in” to spend some time with his family, Coker said during Friday’s ceremony.The soldier’s family was living on the second floor of the Fisher House, and the only way up was the stairs. “People decided they could put him on a sheet and carry him up the stairs,” Coker said.“You hear that once, and you get elevators.”Vancouver is part of the Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Since the Vancouver campus has a lot more open space than Portland’s, a site just across the street from Clark College on the northwest side of Fort Vancouver Way was chosen for the Fisher House.
Natalie Portman admits it was a “bummer” to hear about the constant Star Wars prequel trilogy bashing. George Lucas reignited the franchise for his grand prequel story in the late 1990s and time has been pretty good on them over the years. That doesn’t mean that everybody loves them now, but they were torn to shreds upon their release dates back in the day by just about everybody. The negative response was, and still is, pretty amazing.The Phantom Menace was one of the most anticipated movies in cinema history. George Lucas was taking some pretty crazy chances in tackling another trilogy, which takes place before the beloved first three installments. With that kind of pressure, it’s nearly impossible to make something for everybody to enjoy. Natalie Portman, who starred in all three movies, was asked about the prequel reactions and had this to say in a recent interview.”It was hard. It was a bummer because it felt like people were so excited about new ones and then to have people feel disappointed. Also to be at an age that I didn’t really understand that’s kind of the nature of the beast. When something has that much anticipation it can almost only disappoint.”The new Star Wars trilogy has seen a lot of the same backlash that the prequel trilogy went through. However, it has been nearly 20 years since The Phantom Menace was released and there is a younger generation who grew up watching the prequels. For some, it was their introduction to the franchise and they prefer it more than anything else. Natalie Portman recognizes that aspect today. She explains.”With the perspective of time, it’s been re-evaluated by a lot of people who actually really love them now. There’s a very avid group of people who think they’re the best ones now! I don’t have enough perspective to weigh in.”While some Star Wars fans are still bashing Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi, the movie may become a fan-favorite in the years to come. It’s too early to tell, but ultimately, there’s too many expectations to create something that everybody is going to enjoy. Johnson took chances and is pretty much hated for it, while J.J. Abrams gets bashed for playing it too safe. Regardless, the franchise is still moving forward.The Star Wars franchise is held up by a huge audience of fans and it is arguably bigger now than it ever has been. The Rise of Skywalker is coming out at the end of the year and it will be the final movie in the Skywalker saga. Disneyland and Disney World are both opening up new Star Wars-themed lands to the parks, with the Anaheim park opening at the end of this month. Reservations to visit the new area for a total of four hours, sold out in less than two hours online. There are complaints, but people are still packing theaters and now theme parks too. The interview with Natalie Portman was originally conducted by Empire.