Why do dolphins jump? Interpreting the behavioural repertoire of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops sp.) in Doubtful Sound, New Zealand

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Only a limited number of studies have tried to determine the purpose of surface behavioural events performed by dolphins. To date only one study has attempted to aggregate the behavioural events observed in a population in contextual groups using co-occurrence as the grouping factor. In the present study, I tried to characterise the behavioural repertoire of a bottlenose dolphin population (Tursiops sp.) present in Doubtful Sound, New Zealand. I first looked at the relationship between events performed by individuals depending on the behavioural state of their schools. I then assessed the likelihood for events to co-occur. Four main behavioural categories (orientation, travel, social displays and fights) emerged from this analysis. Aerial events (jumps) did not fall into one category, showing that different aerial behaviours play different roles. Moreover, it appears that dolphins used side-flopping and upside-down lobtailing to communicate motivation. Side-flops occurred when the focal schools finished a behavioural bout and started to travel, while upside-down lobtails occurred when the focal schools instigated a behavioural bout after travelling. This non-vocal communication can take place over a few meters to hundreds of meters. Having signals that are effective over very short ranges avoids unwanted signalling to prey, predators or conspecifics. (c) 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)257-265
Number of pages9
JournalBehavioural Processes
Issue number3
Early online date23 Jun 2006
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2006


  • behaviour
  • bottlenose dolphin
  • non-vocal communication
  • behavioural analysis
  • South-Atlantic
  • truncatus
  • whales
  • communication
  • animals
  • ecology
  • boats

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