Quantitative Comparison of Whistle Repertoires from Captive Adult Bottlenose Dolphins (Delphinidae, Tursiops truncatus): a Re‐evaluation of the Signature Whistle Hypothesis

Brenda Mccowan, Diana Reiss

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

70 Scopus citations


The prevailing view among researchers of dolphin communication is that bottlenose dolphins possess an individualized whistle contour; known as the ‘signature whistle’, it accounts for 74–95 % of a dolphin's whistle repertoire and functions to signal the individual identity of the whistler. This study used a new quantitative technique, termed the contour similarity technique (CS technique), and reports on the quantitative comparison of whistles from the individuals of three different social groups of bottlenose dolphins in socially interactive contexts. Results suggest that captive adult dolphins share several different whistle types including one predominant whistle type shared by all individuals across three different social groups. These analyses suggest a different interpretation of the dolphin whistle repertoire than has previously been proposed by proponents of the signature whistle hypothesis. In addition, results from our study support the results of early studies, published before the advent of the signature whistle hypothesis, in which investigators reported a large whistle repertoire within socially interactive captive and free‐ranging groups and a predominant whistle type similar to that found in our study. Our results, combined with the results from earlier studies of dolphin vocal behaviour, suggest that the signature whistle hypothesis is incomplete and that dolphin whistle repertoires need to be analysed with respect to behavioural context and social relationships. In addition, these results suggest that contour discrimination and other acoustic features of whistles need to be tested in perception and categorization experiments. 1995 Blackwell Verlag GmbH

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)194-209
Number of pages16
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1995
Externally publishedYes


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology

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