Animal Cognition

, Volume 20, Issue 6, pp 1153–1160 | Cite as

A beluga whale socialized with bottlenose dolphins imitates their whistles

  • Elena M. PanovaEmail author
  • Alexandr V. Agafonov
Short Communication


The research on imitation in the animal kingdom has more than a century-long history. A specific kind of imitation, auditory–vocal imitation, is well known in birds, especially among songbirds and parrots, but data for mammals are limited to elephants, marine mammals, and humans. Cetaceans are reported to imitate various signals, including species–specific calls, artificial sounds, and even vocalizations from other species if they share the same habitat. Here we describe the changes in the vocal repertoire of a beluga whale that was housed with a group of bottlenose dolphins. Two months after the beluga’s introduction into a new facility, we found that it began to imitate whistles of the dolphins, whereas one type of its own calls seemed to disappear. The case reported here may be considered as an interesting phenomenon of vocal accommodation to new social companions and cross-species socialization in cetaceans.


Beluga whale Delphinapterus leucas Bottlenose dolphin Tursiops truncatus Vocal imitation Vocal convergence 



The authors would like to express their special gratitude to A. Shapovalov, the director of the Koktebel dolphinarium, for the opportunity to conduct the present research and to A. Azovtseva and D. Tsvetkova, marine mammal trainers, for their cooperation. We would also like to thank our judges Roman Belikov, Ekaterina Prasolova, and Irina Logominova, as well as A. Kholodenko and I. Kholodenko, who provided moral and financial support of the study. We are also thankful to anonymous reviewers for the helpful suggestions on the manuscript and to Maria Wilding and Steven Yates for their kind assistance in the editing of the English.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed.

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Shirshov Institute of Oceanology, Russian Academy of SciencesMoscowRussia

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