We have a new paper out in Current Biology showing how anthropogenic noise impairs cooperation in bottlenose dolphins. Along with international colleagues, we equipped two trained and highly motivated bottlenose dolphins at the Dolphin Research Center in Florida, USA, with DTAGs to record the dolphins’ vocalisations while they participated in a cooperative task. During the task, the dolphins had to work together to both press their own under-water button within one second of each other, while exposed to increasingly louder levels of noise. We found that the dolphins produced louder and longer whistles to compensate for the increasing noise levels but were still less successful as the noise got louder.
For years we have known that animals can attempt to compensate for increased noise in their environment by adjusting their vocal behaviour. This study is important because it shows that these adjustments are not necessarily sufficient to overcome the negative impacts of noise on communication between animals working together. Furthermore, this work also revealed that dolphins can flexibly modify their vocalisations in an attempt to continue cooperating with their partner, revealing that this species is capable of actively coordinated collaboration.
This is the first published piece of work from Pernille's PhD research, so huge congratulations to her for leading this excellent study!
The Current Biology paper can be accessed here