To Whistle or Not to Whistle? Geographic Variation in the Whistling Behavior of Small Odontocetes

Abstract: Whistles are used by odontocetes to varying degrees. During a visual and acoustic survey of dolphin abundance in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean (ETP), whistles were heard from 66% of single species schools and from 98% of mixed species schools. In contrast, whistles were heard from only 24% of single species schools and 23% of mixed species schools during a survey of temperate waters off the western United States. The most common species encountered in the ETP were Stenella coeruleoalba, S. attenuata, and Tursiops truncatus, all of which whistled frequently. The most common species encountered in the temperate study area were Delphinus delphis, Phocoenoides dalli, Lissodelphis borealis, and Phocoena phocoena, only one of which whistled (D. delphis). Why do small odontocete species living in the ETP whistle more frequently than those living in colder waters farther north? Six hypotheses are explored: (1) predator avoidance, (2) group size, (3) school composition, (4) behavior state, (5) temporal variation, and (6) anatomical differences. Multivariate logistic regression with whistling as the dependent variable and group size, school composition, time of day, presence of a beak, and study area as independent variables showed that all variables were significant (p < 0.001). An explanation of the aggregation of whistling species in the tropical study area and nonwhistling species in the temperate study area is likely found in some combination of the hypotheses discussed.

Key Words: whistling behavior, odontocete, hydrophone array, passive acoustic monitoring, delphinid, phocoenid

Document Type: Research article

DOI: 10.1578/AM.34.3.2008.288

Page Numbers: 288-302

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