Postpartum whistle production in bottlenose dolphins


Current affiliation: Dallas Zoo, Dallas, TX.

Address for correspondent: 650 S RL Thornton Freeway, Dallas, TX 75203.


Despite much research on bottlenose dolphin signature whistles, few have investigated the role of maternal whistles in early calf development. We investigated maternal whistle use in the first weeks postpartum for captive dolphins. The overall whistling rate increased by a factor of ten when the calves were born and then decreased again in the third week of the one surviving calf. Adult whistles were distinguished from calf whistles based on the extent of frequency modulation and were further classified into signature and non-signature whistles by comparison to a dictionary of known whistles. The average rate of maternal signature whistle production increased significantly from 0.02 whistles per dolphin-minute before the calves were born to 0.2 and 0.3 whistles in weeks 1 and 2, decreasing again to 0.06 in week 3 for the mother of the surviving calf. Percent maternal signature whistles changed similarly. Signature whistle production by non-mothers did not change when the calves were born. A likely function of this increase in maternal signature whistle production is that it enables the calf to learn to identify the mother in the first weeks of life.