Date of Award

Spring 5-2013

Degree Type

Honors College Thesis


Biological Sciences

First Advisor

Stan Kuczaj

Advisor Department

Biological Sciences


This project examines the social functions of mouthing behaviors in bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). The Roatan Institute for Marine Sciences (RIMS) houses dolphins which are captive but in a natural habitat. The twenty-six dolphins are used in human interactions, but for the rest of their time they are allowed to roam naturally. These dolphins make it possible to examine natural social behavior in a captive setting. The following study examines video data of these dolphins obtained by Dr. Stan Kuczaj in 2009. Behavior of the dolphins in these videos was recorded, the primary focus being mouthing behaviors.

There are three commonly observed mouthing behaviors: open mouth, mouthing, and biting/raking. This project aims to examine how often and in what context mouthing behavior occurs, which has not previously been widely studied. This will be examined in three main questions:

1. How often does each type of mouthing behavior occur?

2. What sex and age of dolphins are doing the mouthing behavior?

3. In what contexts does the mouthing behavior occur?

I expect to find that open mouth is the most often mouthing behavior performed in a wide variety of social situations. Due to strong bonds between males and male-male dominance displays, I expect males to mouth males more often than females. I expect that juveniles will generally perform mouthing behaviors most often and to other juveniles. I expect mouthing behaviors will also be observed commonly in general contexts such as orient. Dolphins use social signals in a complex social life and I predict mouthing behaviors are an integral part of many social situations of bottlenose dolphins.

Included in

Life Sciences Commons