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Vocal activities reflect the temporal distribution of bottlenose dolphin social and non‐social activity in a zoological park

Lima, Alice, Lemasson, Alban, Boye, Martin, Hausberger, Martine
Zoo biology 2017 v.36 no.6 pp. 351-359
Tursiops truncatus, acoustics, dolphins, social behavior, vocalization, zoos
Under natural conditions bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) spend their time mostly feeding and then travelling, socializing, or resting. These activities are not randomly distributed, with feeding being higher in early morning and late afternoon. Social activities and vocal behavior seem to be very important in dolphin daily activity. This study aimed to describe the activity time‐budget and its relation to vocal behavior for dolphins in a zoological park. We recorded behaviors and vocalizations of six dolphins over 2 months. All subjects performed more non‐agonistic social interactions and play in the morning than in the afternoon. The different categories of vocalizations were distributed non‐randomly throughout the day, with more chirps in the afternoon, when the animals were “less social.” The most striking result was the strong correlation between activities and the categories of vocalizations produced. The results confirm the association between burst pulses and whistles with social activities, but also reveal that both are also associated with solitary play. More chirps were produced when dolphins were engaged in socio‐sexual behaviors, emphasizing the need for further questioning about the function of this vocal category. This study reveals that: (i) in a group kept in zoological management, social activities are mostly present in the morning; and (ii) the acoustic signals produced by dolphins may give a reliable representation of their current activities. While more studies on the context of signal production are needed, our findings provide a useful tool for understanding free ranging dolphin behavior when they are not visible.