Vocal copying of individually distinctive signature whistles in bottlenose dolphins

Thumbnail Image
King, Stephanie L.
Sayigh, Laela S.
Wells, Randall S.
Fellner, Wendi
Janik, Vincent M.
Linked Authors
Alternative Title
Date Created
Replaced By
Vocal learning
Vocal learning is relatively common in birds but less so in mammals. Sexual selection and individual or group recognition have been identified as major forces in its evolution. While important in the development of vocal displays, vocal learning also allows signal copying in social interactions. Such copying can function in addressing or labelling selected conspecifics. Most examples of addressing in non-humans come from bird song, where matching occurs in an aggressive context. However, in other animals, addressing with learned signals is very much an affiliative signal. We studied the function of vocal copying in a mammal that shows vocal learning as well as complex cognitive and social behaviour, the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus). Copying occurred almost exclusively between close associates such as mother–calf pairs and male alliances during separation and was not followed by aggression. All copies were clearly recognizable as such because copiers consistently modified some acoustic parameters of a signal when copying it. We found no evidence for the use of copying in aggression or deception. This use of vocal copying is similar to its use in human language, where the maintenance of social bonds appears to be more important than the immediate defence of resources.
© The Author(s), 2013. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License. The definitive version was published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B Biological Sciences 280 (2013): 20130053, doi:10.1098/rspb.2013.0053.
Embargo Date
Proceedings of the Royal Society B Biological Sciences 280 (2013): 20130053
Cruise ID
Cruise DOI
Vessel Name
Except where otherwise noted, this item's license is described as Attribution 3.0 Unported