The Influence of Age, Sex, and Social Affiliation on the Responses of Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) to a Novel Stimulus Over Time

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
M. Lopes, J. L. Borger-Turner, H. C. Eskelinen, S. A. Kuczaj
Animal Behavior and Cognition
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Responses to novelty may differ among individuals as a function of age, sex, and/or the presence of offspring, and understanding how marine mammals respond to novel stimuli is critical to management. In this study, 20 captive Atlantic bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) were exposed to a novel object, consisting of PVC pipes and either a non-reflective or reflective surface. Their responses, broadly defined as either non-social or social, non-aggressive or aggressive interactions with the stimulus, were recorded across 10 exposure trials and compared among age classes and between males and females. Adult females exhibited the highest frequency of interactions, and those with dependent calves participated in more social interactions. Both adults and calves displayed a significantly greater frequency of interactions and aggression when exposed to the reflective versus non-reflective surface, indicating that the characteristics of the stimulus influenced the response. Although the number of interactions did not change across repeated exposures, there were significantly more aggressive interactions during later exposures, suggesting sensitization to the stimulus. There was no evidence of habituation over time for any of the subjects. Thus, when managing marine mammal exposure to anthropogenic stimuli, it is important to consider the demographics of the population, as well as the characteristics of the stimulus that may contribute to habituation, sensitization, and/or tolerance.


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