Anthropogenic noise impairs cooperation in bottlenose dolphins

Pernille M. Sørensen*, Abigail Haddock, Emily Guarino, Kelly Jaakkola, Christina McMullen, Frants H. Jensen, Peter L. Tyack, Stephanie L. King*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Understanding the impact of human disturbance on wildlife populations is of societal importance,1 with anthropogenic noise known to impact a range of taxa, including mammals,2 birds,3 fish,4 and invertebrates.5 While animals are known to use acoustic and other behavioral mechanisms to compensate for increasing noise at the individual level, our understanding of how noise impacts social animals working together remains limited. Here, we investigated the effect of noise on coordination between two bottlenose dolphins performing a cooperative task. We previously demonstrated that the dolphin dyad can use whistles to coordinate their behavior, working together with extreme precision.6 By equipping each dolphin with a sound-and-movement recording tag (DTAG-37) and exposing them to increasing levels of anthropogenic noise, we show that both dolphins nearly doubled their whistle durations and increased whistle amplitude in response to increasing noise. While these acoustic compensatory mechanisms are the same as those frequently used by wild cetaceans,8,9,10,11,12,13 they were insufficient to overcome the effect of noise on behavioral coordination. Indeed, cooperative task success decreased in the presence of noise, dropping from 85% during ambient noise control trials to 62.5% during the highest noise exposure. This is the first study to demonstrate in any non-human species that noise impairs communication between conspecifics performing a cooperative task. Cooperation facilitates vital functions across many taxa and our findings highlight the need to account for the impact of disturbance on functionally important group tasks in wild animal populations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)749-754
Number of pages11
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number4
Early online date12 Jan 2023
Publication statusPublished - 27 Feb 2023


  • Cooperation
  • Active coordination
  • Communication
  • Anthropogenic noise
  • Lombard response
  • Cognition
  • Bottlenose dolphin
  • Acoustic compensation
  • Masking
  • Noise pollution


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