Thursday, 2 May 2019

Mysterious river dolphin helps crack the code of marine mammal communication


Date:  April 19, 2019
Source:  University of Vermont
The Araguaian river dolphin of Brazil is something of a mystery. It was thought to be quite solitary, with little social structure that would require communication. But Laura May Collado, a biologist at the University of Vermont, and her colleagues have discovered that the dolphins can actually make hundreds of different sounds to communicate, a finding that could help uncover how communication evolved in marine mammals.
"We found that they do interact socially and are making more sounds than previously thought," she says. "Their vocal repertoire is very diverse."
The findings of May Collado are her colleagues were published in the journal PeerJ on April 18.
The Araguaian dolphins, also called botos, are a difficult animal to study. They are hard to find in the first place, and while the waters of the Araguaia and Tocatins rivers are clear, it is challenging to identify individuals because the dolphins are skittish and hard to approach.
Luckily, Gabriel Melo-Santos, a biologist from the University of St Andrews in Scotland and leader of the project, found a fish market in the Brazilian town of Mocajuba where the botos regularly visit to be fed by people shopping there. The clear water and regular dolphin visits provided a unique opportunity to get a close look at how the animals behave and interact, and to identify and keep track of various individuals.
The team used underwater cameras and microphones to record sounds and interactions between the dolphins at the market, and took some genetic samples. They identified 237 different types of sounds the dolphins make, but even with 20 hours of recordings the researchers don't believe they captured the animals' entire acoustic repertoire. The most common sounds were short, two-part calls that baby dolphins made when they were approaching their mothers.


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