Marine Biology

, Volume 148, Issue 5, pp 1181–1188 | Cite as

Diving deep in a foraging hotspot: acoustic insights into bottlenose dolphin dive depths and feeding behaviour

  • G.D. HastieEmail author
  • B. Wilson
  • P.M. Thompson
Research Article


To exploit resources in their environment, odontocete cetaceans have evolved sophisticated diving abilities to allow effective foraging. However, data on the diving behaviour and underwater foraging behaviour remains limited. This study made use of echolocation clicks and other calls to study the diving behaviour of bottlenose dolphins. Dolphins used the full water column and consistently dived to depths of around 50 m, close to the seabed. However, the majority of their time appeared to be spent within the surface layers of the water column. In addition, by localising calls that have been associated with prey capture events (Janik, Proc R Soc Lond Ser B 267:923–927, 2000a), it appeared that certain forms of feeding behaviour occurred primarily at depths of between 20 and 30 m. Furthermore, data on the depth of clicks made before and after these feeding calls suggested that during the minute before the calls, dolphins were consistently diving from the surface to depths close to the seabed, and were subsequently returning to the surface after the calls. This passive acoustic technique proved an accurate method for studying the depth distribution of dolphin vocalisations. By exploiting the natural sounds made by these wild odontocetes, this investigation provided a previously unavailable perspective on the the 3D nature of bottlenose dolphins foraging behaviour. It confirmed that while the dolphins spent the majority of time close to the surface, the full water column was exploited during foraging events.


Atlantic Salmon Depth Distribution Hydrophone Bottlenose Dolphin Prey Capture 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This work was supported by Talisman Energy (UK) Ltd., the Cromarty Firth Port Authority, Ross and Cromarty Enterprise, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society and the Caledonian Society of Sheffield. We thank all those who spent long hours in the field assisting with data collection, in particular Lindsay Tufft, Stuart Middlemas and Tim Barton. Thanks also to Vincent Janik for advice and guidance throughout the study.


  1. Baird RW, Hanson MB (1996) Dall’s porpoise diving behaviour and reactions to tagging attempts using a remotely-deployed suction-cup tag. National marine mammal laboratory, National marine and fisheries service, 43ABNF601492, SeattleGoogle Scholar
  2. Chilvers BL, Corkeron PJ (2000) Another unsuccessful attempt to suction-cup tag bottlenose dolphins. Mar Mamm Soc Newslett 8:4Google Scholar
  3. Clark CW, Ellison WT, Beeman K (1985) Progress report on the analysis of the spring 1985 acoustic data regarding migrating bowhead whales, Balaena mysticetus, near point barrow, Alaska. Rep Int Whaling Comm 36:587–597Google Scholar
  4. Corkeron P, Martin AR (2004) Ranging and diving behaviour of two ‘offshore’ bottlenose dolphins, Tursiops sp., off eastern Australia. J Mar Biol Assoc UK 84:465–468CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Croxall JP, Everson I, Kooyman GL, Ricketts C, Davis RW (1985) Fur seal diving behaviour in relation to vertical distribution of krill. J Anim Ecol 54:1–8CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Davis RW, Worthy GAJ, Würsig B, Spencer K (1996) Diving behaviour and at-sea movements of an Atlantic spotted dolphin in the Gulf of Mexico. Mar Mamm Sci 12:569–581CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Dolphin WF (1987) Ventilation and dive patterns of humpback whales, Megaptera novaeangliae, on their Alaskan feeding grounds. Can J Zool 65:83–90CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Freitag LE, Tyack PL (1993) Passive acoustic localisation of the Atlantic bottlenose dolphin using whistles and echolocation clicks. J Acoust Soc Am 93:2197–2205CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Georges JY, Tremblay Y, Guinet C (2000) Seasonal diving behaviour in lactating subantarctic fur seals on Amsterdam Island. Polar Biol 23:59–69CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gowans ARD, Armstrong JD, Priede IG (1999) Movements of adult Atlantic salmon through a resevoir above a hydroelectric dam: Loch Faskally. J Fish Biol 54:727–740CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Hastie GD, Wilson B, Wilson LJ, Parsons KM, Thompson PM (2004) Functional mechanisms underlying cetacean distribution patterns: hotspots for bottlenose dolphins are linked to foraging. Mar Biol 144:397–403CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Hooker SK, Baird RW (1999) Deep-diving behaviour of the northern bottlenose whale, Hyperoodon ampullatus (Cetacea: Ziphidae). Proc R Soc Lond B 266:671–676CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Janik VM (2000a) Food-related bray calls in wild bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). Proc R Soc Lond Ser B 267:923–927CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Janik VM (2000b) Whistle matching in wild bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). Science 289:1355–1357CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Janik VM, Van Parijs SM, Thompson PM (2000) A two-dimensional acoustic localization system for marine mammals. Mar Mamm Sci 16:437–447CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Jensen ME, Miller LM (1999) Echolocation signals of the bat Eptesicus serotinus recorded using a vertical microphone array: effect of flight altitude on searching signals. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 47:60–69CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Leaper R, Chappell O, Gordon J (1992) The development of practical techniques for surveying sperm whale populations acoustically. Rep Int Whaling Comm 42:549–560Google Scholar
  18. Martin AR, Kingsley MCS, Ramsay MA (1994) Diving behaviour of narwhals (Monodon monoceros) on their summer grounds. Can J Zool 72:118–125CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Menzies WJM (1928) Salmon of the river Conon, 1927. Fishery board for Scotland: salmon fisheries, 1928 No. VIII, Her Majesty’s stationery office, Edinburgh, ScotlandGoogle Scholar
  20. Mougin JL, Mougin MC (2000) Maximum diving depths for feeding attained by Bulwer’s petrels (Bulweria bulwerii) during the incubation period. J Zool 250:75–77CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Murchison AE (1980) Detection range and range resolution of echolocating bottlenose porpoises (Tursiops truncatus). In: Busnel RG, Fish JF (eds) Animal sonar systems. Plenum Press, New York, pp 43–70CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Nall GH (1937) Salmon of the river Conon, 1927. Fishery board for Scotland: salmon fisheries, 1928 No. VIII, Her Majesty’s stationery office, Edinburgh, ScotlandGoogle Scholar
  23. Richardson WJ, Greene CRJ, Malme CI, Thomson DH (1995) Marine mammals and noise. Academic Press Inc., San Diego, CAGoogle Scholar
  24. Ridgway SH, Scronce BL, Kanwisher J (1969) Respiration and deep diving in the bottlenose porpoise. Science 166:1651–1654CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Santos MB, Pierce GJ, Reid RJ, Patterson IAP, Ross HM, Mente E (2001) Stomach contents of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in Scottish waters. J Mar Biol Assoc UK 81:873–878CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Schneider K, Baird RW, Dawson S, Visser I, Childerhouse S (1998) Reactions of bottlenose dolphins to tagging attempts using a remotely-deployed suction-cup tag. Mar Mamm Sci 14:316–324CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Tollit DJ, Black AD, Thompson PM, Mackay A, Corpe HM, Wilson B, Van Parijs SM, Grellier K, Parlane S (1998) Variations in harbour seal Phoca vitulina diet and dive-depths in relation to foraging habitat. J Zool Lond 244:209–222CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Van Parijs SM, Hastie GD, Thompson PM (2000) A design for a two-dimensional boat-bound hydrophone array for studying harbor seals, Phoca vitulina. Mar Mamm Sci 16:482–488CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Watkins WA, Schevill WE (1974) Listening to Hawaiin spinner porpoises, Stenella cf, longirostris, with a three-dimensional hydrophone array. J Mammal 55:319–328CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Westgate AJ, Read AJ, Bergrren P, Koopman HN, Gaskin DE (1995) Diving behaviour of harbour porpoises, Phocoena phocoena. Can J Fish Aquat Sci 52:1064–1078CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Williams TM, Haun JE, Friedl WA (1999) The diving physiology of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) I. Balancing the demands of exercise for energy conservation at depth. J Exp Biol 202:2739–2748PubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Wilson B, Hammond PS, Thompson PM (1999) Estimating size and assessing trends in a coastal bottlenose dolphin population. Ecol Appl 9:288–300CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Wilson B, Thompson PM, Hammond PS (1997) Habitat use by bottlenose dolphins: seasonal distribution and stratified movement patterns in the Moray Firth, Scotland. J Appl Ecol 34:1365–1374CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Yano K, Ichihara T, Nakamura A, Tanaka S (1984) Escape behaviour of the chum salmon, Onchorynchus keta, upon encountering Dall’s porpoise, Phocoenoides dalli. Bull Jpn Soc Sci Fish 50:1273–1277CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Aberdeen, School of Biological SciencesCromartyUK
  2. 2.Dunstaffnage Marine LaboratoryThe Scottish Association for Marine ScienceArgyllUK
  3. 3.Marine Mammal Research Unit, AERLUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

Personalised recommendations