May 20, 2024

Time of Day and Social Change Affect Underwater Sound Production by Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) at the Brookfield Zoo


Sara C. Therrien, Jeanette A. Thomas, Ronald E. Therrien, and Rita Stacey


Abstract: This study investigated diel changes in ambient noise levels and the number of whistles produced by bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) at the Brookfield Zoo in Brookfield, Illinois. Automated, continuous 24-h underwater recordings were made from 1 January to 31 March 2008. The number of whistles, types of whistles, and background noise level were examined for each hour. Nine distinct frequency contours were identified, named, and analyzed for minimum frequency, maximum frequency, peak frequency, and duration. Since all pumps and filters at the Seven Seas Exhibit of Brookfield Zoo were housed in a separate building isolated from the dolphins’ pools, background noise was relatively low and consistent throughout the day (95 to 98 dB re: 1 μPa). However, when the zoo staff used a scrubber to clean the pool walls, the background noise was higher and fluctuated (up to 112 dB re: 1 μPa). The dolphins whistled significantly less during these scrubbing periods. The dolphins exhibited a distinct diel pattern in whistle production. Increased whistle production coincided with increased interactions with humans during feeding/training sessions; the number of whistles peaked in the late afternoon (~1600 h) and then quickly tapered off throughout the night. The investigation began with eight dolphins; however, the death of one young male and the transport of two adult males to another facility left five dolphins: two adult females and two juvenile females along with an unrelated young male. These changes provided an opportunity to explore how social change affected whistle production. After the two adult males were transported out of the facility, two of the distinct whistle types disappeared, suggesting that each of the two dolphins had a unique whistle type. The results of this investigation highlight the usefulness of passive recording for monitoring ambient noise, as well as for documenting the activity pattern and social interactions of captive bottlenose dolphins.

Key Words: diel pattern, whistle, background noise, ambient noise, bottlenose dolphin, Tursiops truncatus

Document Type: Research article

DOI: 10.1578/AM.38.1.2012.65

Page Numbers: 65-75

Info SKU: Vol__38__Iss__1__Therrien Category: