Identifying signature whistles from recordings of groups of unrestrained bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) Academic Article uri icon


  • Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) have individually-distinctive signature whistles. Each individual dolphin develops its own unique frequency modulation pattern and uses it to broadcast its identity. However, underwater sound localization is challenging, and researchers have had difficulties identifying signature whistles. The traditional method to identify them involved isolating individuals. In this context, the signature whistle is the most commonly produced whistle type of an animal. However, most studies on wild dolphins cannot isolate animals. We present a novel method, SIGID, that can identify signature whistles in recordings of groups of dolphins recorded via a single hydrophone. We found that signature whistles tend to be delivered in bouts with whistles of the same type occurring within 1-10 s of each other. Non-signature whistles occur over longer or shorter periods, and this distinction can be used to identify signature whistles in a recording. We tested this method on recordings from wild and captive bottlenose dolphins and show thresholds needed to identify signature whistles reliably. SIGID will facilitate the study of signature whistle use in the wild, signature whistle diversity between different populations, and potentially allow signature whistles to be used in mark-recapture studies.

publication date

  • January 2013