Gotta Go Mom's Calling: Dolphin Mothers Use Individually Unique Acoustic Signals to Call Their Calves

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Team Members:

Brittany Jones, University of Southern Mississippi and Dolphins Plus
Holli Eskelinen, Dolphins Plus
Stan Kuczaj, University of Southern Mississippi
Jill Borger-Turner, University of Miami


Dolphin calves often wander away from their mothers, which can compromise their safety and survival. Mothers can retrieve their calves by physically pursuing them or by acoustically signaling their calves to return. However, little is known about the techniques mother’s use in calf recall contexts. We experimentally investigated the behavioral and acoustic strategies used by Atlantic bottlenose dolphin mothers to elicit their calf’s return in non-urgent contexts. Mothers were more likely to use acoustic signals such as whistles and clicks than physical retrievals. When acoustically signaling, each mother produced individually distinctive calls that often incorporated the mother’s signature whistle but also frequently involved other whistles and clicks. Pairing behavioral contexts with acoustic analyses allows researchers to begin to understand dolphin communication systems.

Original Publication: 

Kuczaj, S., Eskelinen, H., Jones, B., Borger-Turner, J. 2015. Gotta go mom's calling: Dolphin mother's use individually unique acoustic signals to call their calves. Animal Behavior and Cognition 2: 88-95.

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By the Numbers

Over 40,000 students in 50 US states, the US Virgin Islands, and 25 countries participated as judges in the 2016 Ocean 180 Video Challenge.