Male dolphins match the tempo of each other’s calls

By Our Reporter
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Trio of allied males // Photo: Dolphin Alliance Project www.sharkbaydolphins.org

A team of researchers from The University of Western Australia and the University of Bristol has found that when it comes to working together, male dolphins coordinate their behaviour just like us.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, provides insight into the importance of physical and vocal coordination in alliance-forming animals.

In humans, synchronised actions can lead to increased feelings of bonding, foster cooperation and diminish the perceived threat of rivals. It was previously thought that only humans coordinated both verbal signals and physical movement when working together.

The study used long-term acoustic data collected from the population of dolphins in Shark Bay, Western Australia, to show that allied male dolphins also matched the tempo of their partner’s calls when working together, and would sometimes even produce their calls in sync.

Lead author Bronte Moore, who carried out the study while working at UWA’s School of Biological Sciences, said allied male bottlenose dolphins were also well known for synchronising their physical behaviour and could form alliances that lasted for decades.

“To advertise their alliance relationships and maintain their social bonds, they rely on synchronous movements. We wanted to know whether they would also synchronise their vocal behaviour,” she said.

“The study showed that male bottlenose dolphins not only synchronise their movements, but also coordinate their vocal behaviour when cooperating together in alliances. This behaviour may help reduce tension between the males in a situation that requires them to cooperate successfully.”

Former UWA researcher, Dr Stephanie King, now at the University of Bristol’s School of Biological Sciences, said male dolphins needed to work together to herd a female and defend her from rival alliances, but were also competing to fertilise her.

“Such synchronised and coordinated behaviour between allied males may therefore promote cooperative behaviour and regulate stress, as it has been shown to do in humans,” Dr King said.


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