Heavisides dolphins (Cephalorhynchus heavisidii) relax acoustic crypsis to increase communication range

Morgan J. Martin, Tess Gridley, Simon H. Elwen, Frants H. Jensen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


The costs of predation may exert significant pressure on the mode of communication used by an animal, and many species balance the benefits of communication (e.g. mate attraction) against the potential risk of predation. Four groups of toothed whales have independently evolved narrowband high-frequency (NBHF) echolocation signals. These signals help NBHF species avoid predation through acoustic crypsis by echolocating and communicating at frequencies inaudible to predators such as mammal-eating killer whales. Heaviside's dolphins (Cephalorhynchus heavisidii) are thought to exclusively produce NBHF echolocation clicks with a centroid frequency around 125 kHz and little to no energy below 100 kHz. To test this, we recorded wild Heaviside's dolphins in a sheltered bay in Namibia. We demonstrate that Heaviside's dolphins produce a second type of click with lower frequency and broader bandwidth in a frequency range that is audible to killer whales. These clicks are used in burst-pulses and occasional click series but not foraging buzzes. We evaluate three different hypotheses and conclude that the most likely benefit of these clicks is to decrease transmission directivity and increase conspecific communication range. The expected increase in active space depends on background noise but ranges from 2.5 (Wenz Sea State 6) to 5 times (Wenz Sea State 1) the active space of NBHF signals. This dual click strategy therefore allows these social dolphins to maintain acoustic crypsis during navigation and foraging, and to selectively relax their crypsis to facilitate communication with conspecifics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20181178
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1883
StatePublished - Jul 25 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Acoustic crypsis
  • Active space
  • Communication
  • Echolocation
  • Heaviside's dolphin
  • Narrowband high-frequency clicks

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Environmental Science
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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