We are pleased to share our new publication in Royal Society Open Science titled Evidence that bottlenose dolphins can communicate with vocal signals to solve a cooperative task by StephanieL. King, Emily Guarino, Katy Donegan, Christina McMullen and Kelly Jaakkola.
Abstract: Cooperation experiments have long been used to explore the cognition underlying animals' coordination towards a shared goal. While the ability to understand the need for a partner in a cooperative task has been demonstrated in a number of species, there has been far less focus on cooperation experiments that address the role of communication. In humans, cooperative efforts can be enhanced by physical synchrony, and coordination problems can be solved using spoken language. Indeed, human children adapt to complex coordination problems by communicating with vocal signals. Here, we investigate whether bottlenose dolphins can use vocal signals to coordinate their behaviour in a cooperative button-pressing task. The two dolphin dyads used in this study were significantly more likely to cooperate successfully when they used whistles prior to pressing their buttons, with whistling leading to shorter button press intervals and more successful trials. Whistle timing was important as the dolphins were significantly more likely to succeed if they pushed their buttons together after the last whistle, rather than pushing independently of whistle production. Bottlenose dolphins are well known for cooperating extensively in the wild, and while it remains to be seen how wild dolphins use communication to coordinate cooperation, our results reveal that at least some dolphins are capable of using vocal signals to facilitate the successful execution of coordinated, cooperative actions.
The paper is OA and can be found here: https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rsos.202073
Over six episodes, Chris Packham’s Animal Einsteins looks at how Earth’s savviest species have sharpened their skills to thrive in the animal kingdom. Their cunning tricks and unique techniques are being brought to BBC Two by the BBC Studios Natural History Unit, based in Bristol.
In episode 2, Stephanie discussed how dolphins synchronise their calls with the calls of their peers to increase feelings of team bonding – a type of shared experience we used to think was unique to humans. Bottlenose dolphins can form alliances that last decades and they advertise these relationships with synchronised body movements, our research has shown that synchronised calls also play a vital role.
You can catch up with the episode here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000stfb