Dolphin foraging sounds suppress calling and elevate stress hormone levels in a prey species, the Gulf toadfish.
The passive listening hypothesis proposes that dolphins and whales detect acoustic signals emitted by prey, including sound-producing (soniferous) fishes. Previous work showed that bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) behaviorally orient toward the sounds of prey, including the advertisement calls of male Gulf toadfish (Opsanus beta). In addition, soniferous fishes constitute over 80% of Tursiops diet, and toadfishes alone account for approximately 13% of the stomach contents of adult bottlenose dolphins. Here, we used both behavioral (vocalizations) and physiological (plasma cortisol levels) parameters to determine if male Gulf toadfish can, in turn, detect the acoustic signals of bottlenose dolphins. Using underwater playbacks to toadfish in their natural environment, we found that low-frequency dolphin sounds (;pops') within the toadfish's range of hearing dramatically reduce toadfish calling rates by 50%. High frequency dolphin sounds (whistles) and low-frequency snapping shrimp pops (ambient control sounds) each had no effect on toadfish calling rates. Predator sound playbacks also had consequences for circulating stress hormones, as cortisol levels were significantly elevated in male toadfish exposed to dolphin pops compared with snapping shrimp pops. These findings lend strong support to the hypothesis that individuals of a prey species modulate communication behavior in the presence of a predator, and also suggest that short-term glucocorticoid elevation is associated with anti-predator behavior.
Remage-Healey, L; Nowacek, DP; Bass, AH
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