Dolphin Communication Studies

Researchers use a hydrophone to record dolphin sounds.

A non-invasive suction-cup hydrophone is used to record whistles made by dolphin F146. 

Studies over the past few decades in Sarasota Bay have helped immensely to develop our understanding of how dolphins use whistles to communicate with one another. Identifying which animal is vocalizing continues to be one of the greatest challenges for research on cetacean communication, but the SDRP health assessments have enabled us to build up a library of whistles.

So far, we have acquired recordings from 269 individual dolphins over a period of 40 years, for a total of 862 recording sessions. Of these, 108 have been recorded only one time, and the remaining 60% have been recorded between two and 16 times, with an average of 4.7 recording sessions per individual (for those recorded more than once), over periods two to 31 years. (You can listen to some of these recordings in our “Meet the Dolphins” section.)

Adding to the value of these recordings is the fact that we have so much detailed, long-term, background information about the animals, including their sex, age, relatedness to other animals, and social associations over periods of decades in some cases.

For example, we have recorded over 100 mother-calf pairs (some of the mothers have been recorded with multiple calves). This whistle archive is unique and immensely valuable for studies of many aspects of dolphin communication, including whistle structure, development, stability, and functions, and we have used these whistles as stimuli in a long-term set of ongoing playback experiments.

The dolphin communication team includes Drs. Laela Sayigh, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Vincent Janik, University of St. Andrews, Doug Nowacheck, Duke University, Michael Scott, Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission, and Stephanie Watwood, U.S. Navy.

Dolphins Have Names

Did you know that bottlenose dolphins develop individually distinctive signature whistles that they use to maintain group cohesion? Unlike the development of identification signals in most other species, signature whistle development is strongly influenced

Listening to Sarasota Bay Dolphins

Dolphin F197 with her fourth calf, 1974. Several members of F197's family like to swim near the Cortez PAL station. Listening in on Sarasota Bay Dolphins' Underwater World The SDRP, working