Whistle sharing in paired male bottlenose dolphins, Tursiops truncatus

S L Watwood, P L Tyack, R S Wells

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

105 Citations (Scopus)


The signature whistle hypothesis states that dolphins produce highly stereotyped, individually distinctive whistles when in isolation. The presence of signature whistles has been called into question by recent studies proposing that dolphins produce a shared, simple upsweep whistle when in isolation, and that whistles produced by socializing dolphins are shared across individuals and social groups. This shared repertoire hypothesis suggests that when two animals produce the same whistle type, it is due to sharing the same common repertoire rather than one animal learning to produce the whistle of another. One difference between studies supporting or denying the existence of signature whistles is the method used to classify whistle types. We examined whistle production by 17 free-ranging bottlenose dolphins while temporarily restrained. We used both a quantitative comparison technique similar to that used to support the shared repertoire hypothesis and human judges to classify whistle types and quantify similarity between types. Contrary to recent studies that emphasize shared whistles, overall whistle sharing between isolated individuals was low (25%) and a simple upsweep did not account for the most common whistle type in half of the animals. Some species of birds, bats, and primates with stable social groups use vocal learning to converge over time to one common group distinctive call type. We examined whistle similarity between adult male dolphins that are partners in a close social alliance in order to test whether vocal learning may enable a similar vocal convergence. Whistle similarity was rated very high between partners and low between non-partners by both the quantitative technique and human observers. This suggests that as in songbirds and some other mammals, adult male bottlenose dolphins may use vocal learning to converge on similar whistles as they develop affiliative social relationships.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)531-543
Number of pages13
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2004


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