Friend or foe: Risso’s dolphins eavesdrop on conspecific sounds to induce or avoid intra-specific interaction

Lucie Barluet de beauchesne, Mathilde Massenet, Machiel G. Oudejans, Annebelle C. M. Kok, Fleur Visser, Charlotte Curé*

*Corresponding author for this work

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The detection and use of emitters’ signals by unintended receivers, i.e., eavesdropping, represents an important and often low-cost way for animals to gather information from their environment. Acoustic eavesdropping can be a key driver in mediating intra- and interspecific interactions (e.g., cooperation, predator–prey systems), specifically in species such as cetaceans that use sound as a primary sensory modality. While most cetacean species produce context-specific sounds, little is known about the use of those sounds by potential conspecific eavesdroppers. We experimentally tested the hypothesis that a social cetacean, Risso’s dolphin (Grampus griseus), is able to gather biologically relevant information by eavesdropping on conspecific sounds. We conducted playback experiments on free-ranging dolphins using three context-specific sounds stimuli and monitored their horizontal movement using visual or airborne focal follow observations. We broadcasted natural sequences of conspecific foraging sounds potentially providing an attractive dinner bell signal (n = 7), male social sounds simulating a risk of forthcoming agonistic interaction (n = 7) and female-calf social sounds representing no particularly threatening context (n = 7). We developed a quantitative movement response score and tested whether animals changed their direction of horizontal movement towards or away from the playback source. Dolphins approached the foraging and the social female-calf sounds whereas they avoided the social male sounds. Hence, by acoustically eavesdropping on conspecifics, dolphins can discriminate between social and behavioural contexts and anticipate potential threatening or beneficial situations. Eavesdropping and the ensuing classification of ‘friend or foe’ can thus shape intra-specific social interactions in cetaceans.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)287-296
Number of pages10
JournalAnimal Cognition
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1-Apr-2022

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