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Published February 26, 2021 | Version v1
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Evidence that bottlenose dolphins can communicate with vocal signals to solve a cooperative task

  • 1. University of Bristol
  • 2. Dolphin Research Center*


Cooperation experiments have long been used to explore the cognition underlying animals' coordination towards a shared goal. While the ability to understand the need for a partner in a cooperative task has been demonstrated in a number of species, there has been far less focus on cooperation experiments that address the role of communication. In humans, cooperative efforts can be enhanced by physical synchrony, and coordination problems can be solved using spoken language. Indeed, human children adapt to complex coordination problems by communicating with vocal signals. Here, we investigate whether bottlenose dolphins can use vocal signals to coordinate their behaviour in a cooperative button-pressing task. The two dolphin dyads used in this study were significantly more likely to cooperate successfully when they used whistles prior to pressing their buttons, with whistling leading to shorter button press intervals and more successful trials. Whistle timing was important as the dolphins were significantly more likely to succeed if they pushed their buttons together after the last whistle, rather than pushing independently of whistle production. Bottlenose dolphins are well known for cooperating extensively in the wild, and while it remains to be seen how wild dolphins use communication to coordinate cooperation, our results reveal that at least some dolphins are capable of using vocal signals to facilitate the successful execution of coordinated, cooperative actions.  


Funding provided by: The Branco Weiss Fellowship*
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Funding provided by: Jim and Marjorie Sanger to Dolphin Research Center*
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Funding provided by: The Branco Weiss Fellowship
Crossref Funder Registry ID:

Funding provided by: Jim and Marjorie Sanger to Dolphin Research Center
Crossref Funder Registry ID:


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