Date of Award

Spring 2018

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Chair

Alen Hajnal

Committee Chair Department


Committee Member 2

Holli Eskelinen

Committee Member 3

Richard Mohn

Committee Member 3 Department

Educational Research and Administration

Committee Member 4

Donald Sacco

Committee Member 4 Department



Much of the research on dolphin communication has focused on the acoustic signals produced in a variety of social contexts. Although acoustic signals are undoubtedly an important aspect of dolphin communication systems, dolphin communication is multifaceted and multimodal (e.g., postural, visual and tactile signals, acoustic cues). The present study examined behaviors that involve the mouth (i.e., mouthing behaviors) in a group of captive dolphins using 2,696 minutes of underwater acoustic and video recordings collected from 2010 – 2014. Target behaviors are described as primarily visual (e.g., open-mouth display), both visual and acoustic (e.g., jaw claps), and tactile (e.g., mouthing, biting). Coding and analyses of the immediate behavioral antecedents and consequences (± 3 sec) surrounding each mouthing behavioral event revealed four context groups for mouthing behaviors using Latent Class Analyses: agonistic, affiliative, play, and sexual. Each mouthing event was assigned to a context group based on the strength of its probability of belonging to a given class. Overall frequencies of each focal mouthing behavior type and frequency of exhibiting a mouthing behavior in each context were highest for sub-adults and males for this population. These results present the first initial empirical evidence for social contexts other than aggression being present for mouthing behaviors in bottlenose dolphins.