Animal Cognition

, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 969–974 | Cite as

Come dine with me: food-associated social signalling in wild bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus)

  • Stephanie L. KingEmail author
  • Vincent M. Janik
Short Communication


Food-related signalling is widespread in the animal kingdom with some food-associated vocalizations considered functionally referential. Food calls can, however, vary greatly in the type of information they convey. Thus, there are a multitude of purposes for which food calls are used, including social recruitment, caller spacing, the indication of type, quantity, quality, divisibility of food, the caller’s hunger level and even as tools to manipulate prey behaviour. Yet little work has focused on the social aspect of food calling in animals. We investigated the association of social signals in wild bottlenose dolphins with foraging behaviour where context-specific food-associated calls are commonly produced. Our data showed that specific social signals were significantly correlated with food call production and these calls rarely occurred in the absence of food calls. We suggest that animals are sharing additional information on the food patch itself with their social affiliates.


Food calls Bottlenose dolphin Signature whistles Vocal learning Call matching 



We would like to thank Thomas Götz and all our field assistants for their help during this study. The project was funded by a BBSRC Studentship to S.L.K., and a Royal Society University Research Fellowship and a Fellowship of the Wissenschaftskolleg Berlin to V.M.J. It was carried out under Scottish Natural Heritage Research License number 10778. The data reported in this paper are archived at the Sea Mammal Research Unit, University of St Andrews.


  1. Benoit-Bird KJ, Au WWL, Kastelein R (2006) Testing the odontocete acoustic prey debilitation hypothesis: no stunning results. J Acoust Soc Am 120:1118–1123. doi: 10.1121/1.2211508 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Brown CR, Brown M, Shaffer ML (1991) Food-sharing signals among socially foraging cliff swallows. Anim Behav 42:551–564CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Caldwell MC, Caldwell DK (1968) Vocalization of naive captive dolphins in small groups. Science 159:1121–1123PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Cheney B, Thompson PM, Ingram SN et al (2013) Integrating multiple data sources to assess the distribution and abundance of bottlenose dolphins Tursiops truncatus in Scottish waters. Mamm Rev 43:71–88CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Clay Z, Smith CL, Blumstein DT (2012) Food-associated vocalizations in mammals and birds: What do these calls really mean? Anim Behav 83:323–330. doi: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2011.12.008 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Deecke VB, Janik VM (2006) Automated categorization of bioacoustic signals: avoiding perceptual pitfalls. J Acoust Soc Am 119:645–653PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Deecke V, Nykänen M, Foote A, Janik VM (2011) Vocal behaviour and feeding ecology of killer whales Orcinus orca around Shetland, UK. Aquat Biol 13:79–88CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Dos Santos ME, Ferreira AJ, Harzen S (1995) Rhythmic sound sequences emitted by aroused bottlenose dolphins in the Sado estuary, Portugal. In: Kastelein RA, Thomas JA, Nachtigall PE (eds) Sensory systems of aquatic mammals. De Spil Publishers, Woerden, pp 325–334Google Scholar
  9. Esch HC, Sayigh LS, Wells RS (2009) Quantifying parameters of bottlenose dolphin signature whistles. Mar Mamm Sci 24:976–986CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Fedurek P, Machanda ZP, Schel AM, Slocombe KE (2013) Pant hoot chorusing and social bonds in male chimpanzees. Anim Behav 86:189–196. doi: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2013.05.010 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Gerhardt H, Huber F (2002) Acoustic communication in insects and frogs: common problems and diverse solutions. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  12. Hastie GD, Wilson B, Thompson PM (2006) Diving deep in a foraging hotspot: acoustic insights into bottlenose dolphin dive depths and feeding behaviour. Mar Biol 148:1181–1188CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Heinrich B (1988) Winter foraging at carcasses by three sympatric corvids, with emphasis on recruitment by the raven, Corvus corax. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 23:141–156CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Janik VM (1999) Pitfalls in the categorization of behaviour: a comparison of dolphin whistle classification methods. Anim Behav 57:133–143. doi: 10.1006/anbe.1998.0923 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Janik VM (2000a) Food-related bray calls in wild bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). Proc Roy Soc B 267:923–927CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Janik VM (2000b) Whistle matching in wild bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). Science 289:1355–1357PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Janik VM (2005) Underwater acoustic communication networks in marine mammals. In: McGregor PK (ed) Animal communication networks. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 390–415CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Janik VM, Sayigh LS (2013) Communication in bottlenose dolphins: 50 years of signature whistle research. J Comp Physiol A 199:479–489CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Janik VM, Slater PJB (1998) Context-specific use suggests that bottlenose dolphin signature whistles are cohesion calls. Anim Behav 56:829–838PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Janik VM, King SL, Sayigh LS, Wells RS (2013) Identifying signature whistles from recordings of groups of unrestrained bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). Mar Mamm Sci 29:109–122. doi: 10.1111/j.1748-7692.2011.00549.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. King SL, Janik VM (2013) Bottlenose dolphins use learned vocal labels to address each other. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 110:13216–13221PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. King SL, Sayigh LS, Wells RS, Fellner W, Janik VM (2013) Vocal copying of individually distinctive signature whistles in bottlenose dolphins. Proc Roy Soc B 280:20130053CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. King SL, Harley HE, Janik VM (2014) The role of signature whistle matching in bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). Anim Behav 96:79–86CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Maynard DF, Ward KA, Doucet SM, Mennill DJ (2012) Calling in an acoustically competitive environment: duetting male long-tailed manakins avoid overlapping neighbours but not playback-simulated rivals. Anim Behav 84:563–573CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Mazzini F, Townsend SW, Virányi Z, Range F (2013) Wolf howling is mediated by relationship quality rather than underlying emotional stress. Curr Biol 23:1677–1680. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2013.06.066 PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. McGregor PK, Dabelsteen T (1996) Communication networks. In: Kroodsma DE, Miller EH (eds) Ecology and evolution of acoustic communication in birds. Comstock Publishing Associates, Ithaca, pp 409–425Google Scholar
  27. Nakahara F, Miyazaki N (2011) Vocal exchanges of signature whistles in bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). J Ethol 29:309–320CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Parks SE, Cusano DA, Stimpert AK, Weinrich MT, Friedlaender AS, Wiley DN (2014) Evidence for acoustic communication among bottom foraging humpback whales. Sci Rep 4:7508. doi: 10.1038/srep07508 PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Quick NJ, Janik VM (2012) Bottlenose dolphins exchange signature whistles when meeting at sea. Proc Roy Soc B 279:2539–2545CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Radford AN, Ridley AR (2007) Individuals in foraging groups may use vocal cues when assessing their need for anti-predator vigilance. Biol Lett 3:249–252. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2007.0110 PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Radford AN, Ridley AR (2008) Close calling regulates spacing between foraging competitors in the group-living pied babbler. Anim Behav 75:519–527CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Ridgway SH, Moore PW, Carder DA, Romano TA (2014) Forward shift of feeding buzz components of dolphins and belugas during associative learning reveals a likely connection to reward expectation, pleasure and brain dopamine activation. J Exp Biol 217:2910–2919. doi: 10.1242/jeb.100511 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Slocombe KE, Kaller T, Turman L, Townsend SW, Papworth S, Squibbs P, Zuberbuehler K (2010) Production of food-associated calls in wild male chimpanzees is dependent on the composition of the audience. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 64:1959–1966. doi: 10.1007/s00265-010-1006-0 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Staicer C, Spector D, Horn A (1996) The dawn chorus and other diel patterns in acoustic signalling. In: Kroodsma D, Miller E (eds) Ecology and evolution of acoustic communication in birds. Comstock Publishing Associates, Ithaca, pp 426–453Google Scholar
  35. Stimpert AK, Wiley DN, Au WWL, Johnson MP, Arsenault R (2011) “Megapclicks”: acoustic click trains and buzzes produced during night-time foraging of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae). Biol Lett 3:467–470CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Ugarte SM, Wahlberg M, Miller LA (2006) Icelandic killer whale Orcinus orca use a pulsed call suitable for manipulating the schooling behaviour of herring Clupea harengus. Bioacoustics 26:57–74Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sea Mammal Research Unit, School of BiologyUniversity of St AndrewsSt AndrewsUK

Personalised recommendations