GEOGRAPHIC VARIATION IN RATES OF VOCAL PRODUCTION OF FREE-RANGING BOTTLENOSE DOLPHINS

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Abstract

Echolocation and whistle production, group sizes, and activities of free-ranging bottlenose dolphins were compared across four regions (Wilmington, NC Intracoastal Waterway [ICW]; Wilmington coastline; Southport, NC coastline; and Sarasota, FL inshore waters). Number of whistles and echolo-cation bouts differed significantly across sites. Dolphins whistled significantly more in Southport than in the other sites, independent of group size. Unlike at the other sites, dolphin vocalizations in Southport did not vary significantly across activities; this difference may be due to the fact that Southport animals were often found behind shrimp-trawling vessels, which may affect their behavior. Resident Sarasota dolphins vocalized significantly less than dolphins at the NC sites. At most sites, echolocation production per dolphin decreased as group size increased, supporting the idea that echolocation information is shared. In the ICW and Sarasota, echolocation production per dolphin was highest while feeding, indicating that echolocation is used in foraging. At all sites but Southport, whistle production per dolphin was highest while socializing, indicating that whistles are used in communication. Overall, these data show that dolphins have different vocal and activity patterns at different sites; thus, caution should be used when extrapolating results from one study site to another.

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