University of St Andrews
Sea Mammal Research Unit

SMRU News Centre

item 912
[08-03-2012 to 31-12-2012]

News Item:
How You Doin': Dolphins Use Whistles to Say Hello

What does a dolphin say when it crosses oceanic paths with other dolphins? Hello, of course, followed by a formal introduction that’s relayed through a high-pitched “signature whistle.” Marine biologists from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland have long been studying dolphin’s cacophonous communication style — including a series of clicks, pulses and whistles — while the animal is in captivity. But until recently, they questioned how the signature whistles were used in the wild.

Now, they have an answer. The researchers used underwater microphones to follow pods of bottlenose dolphins in St. Andrews Bay. After weeding out some of the other sounds the animals make, they were able to determine that dolphins utilize their “signature whistles” when meeting up with other pods of dolphins — much like a catchphrase. Think, “Hey, how’s it going?” but in whistle form.

“It’s not just ‘I’m so-and-so,’ but the other information also in that whistle is, ‘I’m so-and-so, and I’m interested in making contact in a friendly way, I’m not attacking,’” Vincent Janik, one of the study’s researchers. “What I found really rewarding is to be out there and see how they communicate amongst themselves,” Janik said. “These are wild groups that are just doing whatever they’re doing. It’s really the first time that we can pinpoint down two individual groups and how they interact in a vocal domain, which is really cool.”

see here for further details
contact: Prof Vincent Janik


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    speaker: Professor Randy Read FRS (Cambridge Institute for Medical Research at the University of Cambridge)

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  • CREEM Seminar: The Use of Expert Elicitation in Modelling and Decision Making
    speaker: Tony O'Hagan (University of Sheffield)

    building: The Observatory
    room: Seminar Room
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    host/contact: Dr Rob Schick

    Ever wanted to know how individual experts come up with their informed opinions? How they generate quantitative answers to difficult and uncertain problems? If so, then join CREEM on Wednesday December 2nd, from 1330-1600 when we host one the world’s leading experts on expert elicitation – Professor Tony O’Hagan from the University of Sheffield. Professor O’Hagan has consulted and instructed government, academia, and many corporations on the successful use of expert elicitation.

    Ahead of Professor O’Hagan’s seminar, we will have two shorter presentations of case studies led by members of CREEM. Professor John Harwood (Biology, CREEM) will present work he has led on the use of expert elicitation to help inform policy and provide guidance on the possible impact of sound on marine mammals. Dr Rob Schick (CREEM) will present on the use of expert elicitation to help discern movements of North Atlantic right whales.

    Schedule for the afternoon:

    • 1330 Introduction
    • 1335-1400: John Harwood – EE, marine mammals, and conservation policy
    • 1400-1430: Rob Schick – EE, right whales, and the mid-Atlantic migratory corridor
    • 1430-1500: Tea & coffee
    • 1500-1600: Tony O’Hagan seminar

    Location: Seminar Room, CREEM, The Observatory


    Harwood: There is growing evidence that individuals of many marine mammal species show a marked change in behaviour when they are exposed to noise from activities such as pile driving and navy exercises.  However, the biological significance of this disturbance is unclear.  Together with other members of a working group funded by the US Office of Naval Research, we have developed a conceptual framework that can be used to forecast the potential population-level consequences of disturbance. Unfortunately, for most marine mammal populations there are insufficient empirical data to parameterise the mathematical functions that underpin this framework.  However, there are a number of situations where regulators urgently require scientific advice on the potential effects of a particular development on specific marine mammal populations.  In order to provide this advice, we have used expert elicitation to obtain estimates of the relevant parameters and the uncertainty associated with these estimates.  In this talk I will describe how we have designed the expert elicitation process and how we have used the results from that process.

    Schick: Approximately 500 North Atlantic right whales remain in the world, and despite decades of protection, their recovery continues to be slow. The migratory corridor in the mid-Atlantic ocean links the calving grounds off the southeastern United States with feeding grounds in and around the Gulf of Maine, yet is one of the most highly industrialised stretches of ocean in the world. Movements of animals through this area are poorly documented. We used expert elicitation to poll experts about two sources of information: 1) the seasonal distribution of right whales in the mid-Atlantic; and 2) certain movement transitions from/to the mid-Atlantic. Here we present results from the elicitation, and document how we will use information from # as priors in a statistical model for movement and health. We highlight important lessons learned - both in terms of how to conduct the elicitation, as well as what types of movement related information remains poorly known. In particular, movements of adult male right whales remains very uncertain. And in general, many experts have little idea of what is happening for right whales in the mid-Atlantic.

    O’Hagan: There is no single, accepted state-of-the-art method for eliciting expert knowledge.  Different practitioners advocate different methods.  This talk will begin by outlining some leading approaches and highlighting the factors which might favour one method over others.  I will then concentrate on my own preferred approach, presenting some recent developments.

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