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Listening to Endangered Dolphins

Thanks to the silence created by lockdown, scientists in Australia have been able to record the uninterrupted sounds of the endangered Burrunan dolphins for the first time and are starting to get a better handle on their language. Every cloud has a silver lining!

Classified as a unique species of bottlenose in 2011, previous recordings of Burrunan dolphin communication were always hampered by the noise of passing boats travelling across the dolphins’ habitat, near Melbourne, Australia.

Scientists from the Marine Mammal Foundation (MMF) have been studying the species for over a decade, but the unprecedented quiet of recent months has given them the opportunity of capturing over 3,000 hours of clear recordings, enabling them to discover more and more about the communication patterns of the dolphins. For example, they now know that each Burrunan has a “signature whistle,” like a name, and some form close bonds with each other that last over ten years. 

A significant proportion of their recording work focused on correlating sounds with specific organisms to further break down species behavior. That meant lowering hydrophones into the water to record sounds and observing behavior to match each sound with a specific animal.

The team is recording 24/7 in an effort to uncover new information about mating and feeding that will help them protect this endangered species. MMF founding director Kate Robb said, “We’re not just trying to understand dolphin communication, we’re also looking at conservation, at the human behaviors that impact the dolphins, so that we can recommend new policies to protect them.”


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