Matching Signature Whistles with Photo-Identification of Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) in the Fremantle Inner Harbour, Western Australia


The Swan–Canning River System is home to an Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops aduncus) community of currently 17 adult and juvenile individuals. While a complete photo-identification catalogue exists, visual monitoring requires repeated boat-based surveys and is thus laborious and expensive. Bottlenose dolphins are known to emit individually distinctive signature whistles, and therefore, passive acoustic monitoring could be a reliable and more efficient tool. Archived acoustic and photographic data from the Fremantle Inner Harbour were reviewed for instances when dolphin whistles and individual identifying images were simultaneously available. As dolphin whistles are commonly used in social encounters, dolphins producing whistles in this study were always in groups. Consequently, to assess whether distinctive whistles could be attributed to individual dolphins, conditional probabilities for recording a specific whistle in the presence of certain individuals, as well as Bayesian posterior probabilities for encountering a specific individual at times of certain whistles were computed. While a larger sample size is needed to capture all individuals in diverse groupings, this study provides the first step in developing a passive acoustic program for monitoring this small dolphin community, in order to ultimately inform its conservation management.

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We acknowledge the Australian Acoustical Society for supporting underwater acoustic recording and analysis in the Swan–Canning River System. In addition, we would like to thank the Dolphin Watch and River Guardian programs, the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA), and the Fremantle Port Authority for their ongoing support of dolphin research in the Swan–Canning River System.


Funding was provided by the Australian Acoustical Society (Grant No. RES-SE-CMS-CD-59214-1).

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CSK supervised all fieldwork. RNW (2013), SAM (2014), and CSK (2017) collected the visual and acoustic data. SW transcribed fieldwork logs. SW, RNW, and CE extracted whistles from recordings and measured whistle features. CE, SW, and RNW classified whistles. CE led the project to match whistles with photographs. SW and CSK identified dolphins in photographs. CE, CSK, and SW undertook the statistical analyses. All authors contributed to writing and approved the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Christine Erbe.

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Erbe, C., Salgado-Kent, C., de Winter, S. et al. Matching Signature Whistles with Photo-Identification of Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) in the Fremantle Inner Harbour, Western Australia. Acoust Aust 48, 23–38 (2020).

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  • Bottlenose dolphin
  • Tursiops aduncus
  • Signature whistle
  • Photo identification