It’s a whiz of a discovery: Dolphins recognize one another by the taste of their urine.
New research suggests that the ocean mammals have a unique sense of taste that allows them to sense friends and family members through pee and other excretions.
According to the study published in the journal Science Advances, researchers had a singular porpoise, er, purpose: to see how the sea creatures reacted to urine samples from different individuals.
Turns out, dolphins were more likely to show interest in urine collected from animals they knew rather than randos.
“Dolphins explored urine samples for longer if they came from known animals or when they were presented together with the dolphin’s unique and distinctive signature whistle, an acoustic identifier that works like a name,” professor Vincent Janik, director of the Scottish Oceans Institute and lead author of the study, told the Guardian.
Researchers employed the services of bottlenose dolphins who swim with tourists at the Dolphin Quest resorts in Hawaii and Bermuda.
Fellow researcher Jason Bruck, a marine biologist at Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas, told National Geographic the original goal was to test whether dolphins use their signature whistles in the same way people rely on names.
Bruck couldn’t do that unless he found a second way dolphins could identify each other. Luckily, he remembered that a fellow scientist had previously observed wild dolphins swimming through what the website called “plumes of urine” and he figured the creatures might be using it as an ID technique.
“It was a shot in the dark,” Bruck said. “And I was not expecting it to work, to be honest.”
But it did.
Dolphins don’t have a sense of smell, so the way they would identify each other went like this: When one dolphin peed or pooped, the others would swim through the excretions with their mouths to get a big taste of their friend, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Company.
“In other animals, it’s very difficult to separate the sense of smell from the sense of taste. So this is a really exciting opportunity to just study how taste works in this really unique way,” Bruck told the network.
The researchers noticed the participating dolphins spent three times longer analyzing urine they recognized than pee from strangers.
Bruck also noticed the dolphins seemed to be as fascinated with the experiment as he was.
“The dolphins were very, very keen to participate,” Bruck told National Geographic. “Usually, dolphins get bored with my experiments. We were tapping into something that is part of the dolphins’ world.”