Dynamic biosonar adjustment strategies in deep-diving Risso’s dolphins driven partly by prey evasion

Frants H. Jensen, Onno A. Keller, Peter L. Tyack, Fleur Visser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Toothed whales have evolved flexible biosonar systems to find, track and capture prey in diverse habitats. Delphinids, phocoenids and iniids adjust inter-click intervals and source levels gradually while approaching prey. In contrast, deep-diving beaked and sperm whales maintain relatively constant inter-click intervals and apparent output levels during the approach followed by a rapid transition into the foraging buzz, presumably to maintain a long-range acoustic scene in a multi-target environment. However, it remains unknown whether this rapid biosonar adjustment strategy is shared by delphinids foraging in deep waters. To test this, we investigated biosonar adjustments of a deep-diving delphinid, the Risso’s dolphin (Grampus griseus). We analyzed inter-click interval and apparent output level adjustments recorded from sound recording tags to quantify in situ sensory adjustment during prey capture attempts. Risso’s dolphins did not follow typical (20logR) biosonar adjustment patterns seen in shallow-water species, but instead maintained stable repetition rates and output levels up to the foraging buzz. Our results suggest that maintaining a long-range acoustic scene to exploit complex, multi-target prey layers is a common strategy amongst deep-diving toothed whales. Risso’s dolphins transitioned rapidly into the foraging buzz just like beaked whales during most foraging attempts, but employed a more gradual biosonar adjustment in a subset (19%) of prey approaches. These were characterized by higher speeds and minimum specific acceleration, indicating higher prey capture efforts associated with evasive prey. Thus, tracking and capturing evasive prey using biosonar may require a more gradual switch between multi-target echolocation and single-target tracking.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberjeb216283
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Biosonar strategies
  • Deep-water environment
  • Echolocation
  • Gain control
  • Mesopelagic foraging
  • Sensory ecology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Insect Science


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