King 2021 Communicate to Cooperate

Dolphins Use Vocal Signals to Coordinate Cooperation

Bottlenose dolphins are well known for cooperating in the wild, but how do they coordinate that cooperation? To find out, researchers at Dolphin Research Center and the University of Bristol created a cooperative task where dolphin pairs had to work together to press their own underwater buttons at the same time. The researchers used underwater microphones (hydrophones) to listen in on the dolphins' communication, and found that the dolphins were better at cooperating if they communicated vocally during the task. The timing of their communication also mattered, as the dolphins were more likely to succeed if they pushed their buttons after their last whistle. This study shows that bottlenose dolphins can use vocal signals to coordinate cooperative actions, suggesting that using vocal signals to facilitate cooperation is not just limited to humans.


  • King, S. L., Guarino, E., Donegan, K., McMullen, C., & Jaakkola, K. (2021). Evidence that bottlenose dolphins can communicate with vocal signals to solve a cooperative task. Royal Society Open Science, 8, 202073.

Affiliate Organizations: Dolphin Research Center, University of Bristol

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