Dusky Dolphin (Lagenorhynchus obscurus) Underwater Bait-Balling Behaviors and Acoustic Signals: A Comparison Between Argentina and New Zealand
I characterized dusky dolphin (Lagenorhynchus obscurus) underwater bait-balling behaviors and acoustic signals, and compared data between Argentina and New Zealand (NZ) to investigate the roles of ecology versus social learning. I quantified prey herding and capturing behaviors from video footage, and I analyzed acoustic signals from narrowband recordings. In both locations, I related bait-balling behaviors and acoustic signals to group and prey ball sizes. In NZ, I also related dolphin behaviors to prey ball escape behaviors and acoustic signal parameters to examine proximate functions. Observed herding behaviors typically involved dolphins swimming around or under a prey ball using a side body orientation, while dolphins typically captured fish from the side of a prey ball using a ventral orientation. Coordinated prey-capture behaviors may have made it easier for dolphins to capture fish by trapping fish between dolphins. Signals were categorized as click trains, burst pulses, and combinations due to a bimodal inter-click interval distribution. I observed 3 whistle-like chirp-screams, but no whistles. Sequences of burst pulses also occurred that contained 2-14 burst pulses that aurally and visually appeared closely matched. Similarities between locations suggest that ecological context related to broad behavioral and acoustic parameters, while social learning differences may occur on a finer scale. In NZ, prey balls exhibited horizontal and vertical movements, but the only behavior that preceded escape was “funneling”, the brief formation of a ball shape where the height was at least twice the width. Dolphin behaviors that related to prey balls ascending were type of herding pass, location of prey-capture attempts, and body orientation during attempts. These behavioral parameters may also be used to counter vertical prey escape behaviors. In NZ, all signal categories had a direct or indirect role in capturing prey. Click train-burst pulses were likely used for echolocating on prey, burst pulses and sequences appeared to have communication roles, and the role of click trains was ambiguous. No signal categories appeared to have a herding function, but the sheer number of signals emitted may have caused fish to cluster together more tightly and therefore facilitated capture.
acoustic signal functions
acoustic signal categorization
Vaughn, Robin (2011). Dusky Dolphin (Lagenorhynchus obscurus) Underwater Bait-Balling Behaviors and Acoustic Signals: A Comparison Between Argentina and New Zealand. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from