Engaging Minds, Transforming Lives

King Creativity at Southwestern

The social context of vocal learning in a captive infant bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncates)

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Morgan Mingle and Stephanie Henderson
Faculty Advisor: Jesse Purdy

Like humans, dolphins acquire complex vocal repertoires via mechanisms of vocal development. The goal of our project is to better understand the ontogeny of a vocal repertoire in a newborn captive bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncates) and determine the role of the calf’s mother, non-mothering female, and adult male dolphins in the newborn’s early vocal development. Observations will be taken at a marine mammal park in Coffs Harbour, Australia. A focal animal sampling technique will be used to collect data on vocalizations, concurrent non-vocal behaviors, and behavioral context of four adult and one infant captive dolphins. The relationships between vocalizations and non-vocal behaviors will be analyzed using a pattern detection algorithm and infant vocalizations will be examined for developmental trends across time.

We expect a significant increase in the complexity of the infant’s vocalizations as well as a clear association between the adult dolphin’s vocal and non-vocal behaviors and infant whistles.