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Published January 17, 2023 | Version v1
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Data from: Anthropogenic noise impairs cooperation in bottlenose dolphins

  • 1. University of Bristol
  • 2. Dolphin Research Center*
  • 3. Aarhus University
  • 4. University of St Andrews


Understanding the impact of human disturbance on wildlife populations is of societal importance, with anthropogenic noise known to impact a range of taxa, including mammals, birds, fish, and invertebrates. While animals are known to use acoustic and other behavioural mechanisms to compensate for increasing noise at the individual level, our understanding of how noise impacts social animals working together remains limited. Here, we investigated the effect of noise on coordination between two bottlenose dolphins performing a cooperative task. We previously demonstrated that the dolphin dyad can use whistles to coordinate their behaviour, working together with extreme precision. By equipping each dolphin with a sound-and-movement recording tag (DTAG-3) and exposing them to increasing levels of anthropogenic noise, we show that both dolphins nearly doubled their whistle durations and increased whistle amplitude in response to increasing noise. While these acoustic compensatory mechanisms are the same as those frequently used by wild cetaceans, they were insufficient to overcome the effect of noise on behavioural coordination. Indeed, cooperative task success decreased in the presence of noise, dropping from 85% during ambient noise control trials to 62.5% during the highest noise exposure. To our knowledge, this is the first study to demonstrate in any non-human species that noise impairs communication between conspecifics performing a cooperative task. Cooperation facilitates vital functions across many taxa and our findings highlight the need to account for the impact of disturbance on functionally important group tasks in wild animal populations.


Data files can be accessed using R studio.

Funding provided by: Branco Weiss Fellowship – Society in Science
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Funding provided by: University of Bristol – PGR funding grant*
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Funding provided by: Office of Naval Research
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Award Number: N00014-18-1-2062

Funding provided by: Office of Naval Research
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Award Number: N00014-20-1-2709

Funding provided by: Research grant from Jim Sanger and Marjorie Sanger*
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Related works

Is cited by
10.1016/j.cub.2022.12.063 (DOI)