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Echolocation: Dolphins

For the first time, researchers have discovered that wild gorillas sing and hum while they eat. This discovery could help us to understand how language evolved in early humans.

Eva Luef, a primatologist at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, observed groups of wild gorillas in the Republic of the Congo. She identified two distinct types of sound that gorillas made while eating. One was a steady low-frequency humming sounding like a sigh of satisfaction, while another was a ‘song’ consisting of notes arranged into a loose melody.

Luef observed that singing was generally heard only from the dominant male in a group, which could suggest that as well as signalling appreciation for the food, these sounds could also be a sign to other gorillas that it is time to eat. This reflects our understanding of gorilla social hierarchy in which the dominant male acts as the primary decision maker.

Other great apes such as bonobos and chimpanzees have been observed communicating during mealtimes, but, unlike gorillas, their ‘conversation’ is evenly spread throughout the group, perhaps reflecting a more flexible social structure. Scientists suggest that these variations give insight into the social pressures that might drive the flexibility that we see in language, and possibly into the origins of language itself.

Sound can be used for more than communication. Some mammals, such as Dolphins, use sound to navigate and hunt. Discover more about the use of sound with Twig film - Echolocation: Dolphins.