Journal of Ethology

, Volume 29, Issue 2, pp 309-320

First online:

Vocal exchanges of signature whistles in bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus)

  • Fumio NakaharaAffiliated withCollege of Community Development, Tokiwa University Email author 
  • , Nobuyuki MiyazakiAffiliated withOcean Research Institute, The University of Tokyo

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Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) produce individually distinctive vocalizations—referred to as “signature whistles”—that are thought to function as an individual and conspecific recognition system for maintenance of consistent contact between individuals. Observations and playback experiments were conducted at aquariums to study these whistle–vocal exchanges in bottlenose dolphins. Temporal patterns of vocalization were examined by analyzing the intercall intervals between two consecutive whistles. When a second individual produced a call that was different from the first individual’s vocalization, most of these calls were shorter than 1 s. However, when two consecutive calls were produced by the same individual, the second call rarely occurred within 1 s of the first. These results suggest that a second whistle may be produced by a different caller in response to the first whistle; however, in the case of an absence of a response, the first caller is likely to give further whistles. The results of this acoustic analysis show that the dolphins used in this study mostly used signature whistles during the recorded vocal exchanges.


Vocal exchange Bottlenose dolphin Tursiops truncatus Contact call Vocal communication