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Friend or foe: Risso’s dolphins eavesdrop on conspecific sounds to induce or avoid intra-specific interaction

Abstract

The detection and use of emitters’ signals by unintended receivers, i.e., eavesdropping, represents an important and often low-cost way for animals to gather information from their environment. Acoustic eavesdropping can be a key driver in mediating intra- and interspecific interactions (e.g., cooperation, predator–prey systems), specifically in species such as cetaceans that use sound as a primary sensory modality. While most cetacean species produce context-specific sounds, little is known about the use of those sounds by potential conspecific eavesdroppers. We experimentally tested the hypothesis that a social cetacean, Risso’s dolphin (Grampus griseus), is able to gather biologically relevant information by eavesdropping on conspecific sounds. We conducted playback experiments on free-ranging dolphins using three context-specific sounds stimuli and monitored their horizontal movement using visual or airborne focal follow observations. We broadcasted natural sequences of conspecific foraging sounds potentially providing an attractive dinner bell signal (n = 7), male social sounds simulating a risk of forthcoming agonistic interaction (n = 7) and female-calf social sounds representing no particularly threatening context (n = 7). We developed a quantitative movement response score and tested whether animals changed their direction of horizontal movement towards or away from the playback source. Dolphins approached the foraging and the social female-calf sounds whereas they avoided the social male sounds. Hence, by acoustically eavesdropping on conspecifics, dolphins can discriminate between social and behavioural contexts and anticipate potential threatening or beneficial situations. Eavesdropping and the ensuing classification of ‘friend or foe’ can thus shape intra-specific social interactions in cetaceans.

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Acknowledgements

We thankfully acknowledge the support of all members of the KMR fieldwork teams that have participated in this study, specifically Luis Barcelos, Onno Keller and the OceanEmotion team. We thank Brandon Southall (SEA) for the use of Dtag recordings from the SOCAL-BRS project and Ricardo Antunes for the use of playback equipment. We thank Prof. Eduardo Brito de Azevedo and Francisco Reis, of ITTAA, University of the Azores for their collaboration and use of the research vessel Atlantida, and Professor Rosalina MA Gabriel, Professor Paolo Borges and Professor Joao Pedro Barreiros of GBA (CE3C), University of the Azores for their support in personnel and collaboration.

Funding

FV was funded by the Dutch Research Council (NWO; Award Number 016.Veni.181.086).

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Correspondence to Charlotte Curé.

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This study was conducted under permits issued by the Regional Directorate of Sea Affairs (Secretaria Regional do Mar, Ciência e Technologia, Direção Regional dos Assuntos do Mar; Permit Numbers: (10/2015/DRA; 8/2016/DRA; LMAS-DRAM/2018/01 and LMAS-DRAM/2019/01).

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Barluet de Beauchesne, L., Massenet, M., Oudejans, M.G. et al. Friend or foe: Risso’s dolphins eavesdrop on conspecific sounds to induce or avoid intra-specific interaction. Anim Cogn (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-021-01535-y

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Keywords

  • Cetacean
  • Eavesdropping
  • Conspecific sounds
  • Playback experiments
  • Horizontal movement response
  • Communication