Abstract: "signature whistles" in bottlenose dolphins (fwd)

From: Pita Admininstrator (pita@whale.wheelock.edu)
Date: Mon Feb 11 2002 - 08:20:45 EST

Subject: Abstract: "signature whistles" in bottlenose dolphins

Dear friends and colleagues,

I want to call your attention to a new paper:

McCowan, B. and Reiss, D. (2001). The fallacy of 'signature whistles' in
bottlenose dolphins: a comparative perspective of "signature
information" in animal vocalizations. Animal Behaviour 62 (6):


In sharp contrast with descriptions of contact calls in all other
species, the contact or cohesion calls used by bottlenose dolphins
(Tursiops truncatus) in contexts of social isolation have been
historically described as individually distinctive and categorically
different whistle types, termed "signature whistles". These whistle
types have been proposed to function as labels or names of conspecifics.
Other studies have reported an absence of a signature whistles and have
demonstrated that dolphins, like other species, produce a predominant
shared whistle type that likely contains individual variability in the
acoustic parameters of this shared whistle type.

To further understand the discrepancies between different studies on
dolphin whistle communication and the vast differences reported between
the isolation calls of dolphins and other species, we conducted a study
replicating the approach and methodologies used in the studies that
originally and subsequently characterised signature whistles. In
contrast to these studies, we present clear evidence that, in contexts
of isolation, dolphins use a predominant and shared whistle type rather
than individually distinctive signature whistles. This general class of
shared whistles was the predominant call of 10 of the 12 individuals,
the same shared whistle type previously reported as predominant for
individuals within both socially interactive and separation contexts.
Results on the further classification of this predominant shared whistle
type indicated that 14 subtle variations within this one whistle type
could be partially attributed to individual identity. Thus, individual
variability in the production of a shared contact call, as reported for
other taxa, likely accounts for individual recognition in dolphins. No
evidence was found for categorically different signature whistle types
in isolated bottlenose dolphins using both qualitative and quantitative

Please contact me at bmccowan@vmtrc.ucdavis.edu with any questions or
reprint requests.


Brenda McCowan

Brenda McCowan, Ph.D.
Asst. Research Professor
Department of Population Health & Reproduction
Veterinary Medicine Teaching & Research Center
School of Veterinary Medicine
University of California, Davis
18830 Road 112
Tulare, CA 93274
(559) 688-1731 x264
Lab: (559) 688-1731 x266
Fax: (559) 686-4231
Email: bmccowan@vmtrc.ucdavis.edu

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