Title

Underwater Observations of Dolphin Reactions To a Distressed Conspecific

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

9-28-2015

School

Psychology

Abstract

This report describes the epimeletic (or “caregiving”) behavior produced by members of a group of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) and the possible role of the ailing animal’s distress call in eliciting such behavior. Epimeletic behavior in cetaceans most typically involves forms of support provided to a distressed, injured, or dying animal (Caldwell & Caldwell, 1966). Analyses of underwater video and corresponding acoustic recordings revealed a distressed dolphin (the DD) that frequently produced what are most likely distress calls, often paired with the emission of long bubble streams. The frequency of her whistle production was positively correlated with the frequency of the supporting behaviors the DD received from other dolphins. These helping behaviors included raft formations, lifts, and stimulating pushes that were predominantly directed toward the upper third of the DD’s body, all of which appeared to be directed towards bringing the DD toward the surface so that she could breathe. This is the first documented underwater account of multiple wild bottlenose dolphins providing epimeletic care to a distressed conspecific, and highlights the possible role of distress calls in such scenarios.

Publication Title

Learning and Behavior

Volume

43

Issue

3

First Page

289

Last Page

300

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