Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Martin S. Chodorow

Committee Members

Jennifer Basil

Dorian Houser

David Lahti

Glenis Long

Subject Categories

Agriculture | Animal Sciences


animal welfare; aquarium; marine mammals; noise; Passive Acoustic Monitoring; policy


Sound is the primary sensory modality for dolphins, yet policies mitigating anthropogenic sound exposure are limited in wild populations and even fewer noise policies or guidelines have been developed for governing dolphin welfare under human care. Concerns have been raised that dolphins under human care live in facilities that are too noisy, or are too acoustically sterile. However, these claims have not been evaluated to characterize facility soundscapes, and further, how they compare to wild soundscapes. The soundscape of a wild dolphin habitat off the coast of Quintana, Roo, Mexico was characterized based on Passive Acoustic Monitoring (PAM) recordings over one year. Snapping shrimp were persistent and broadband, following a diel pattern. Fish sound production was pulsed and prominent in low frequencies (100 ─ 1000 Hz), and abiotic surface wave action contributed to noise in higher frequencies (15 ─ 28 kHz). Boat motors were the main anthropogenic sound source. While sporadic, boat motors were responsible for large spikes in the noise, sometimes exceeding the ambient noise (in the absence of a boat) by 20 dB root-mean-squared sound pressure level, and potentially higher at closer distances. Boat motor sounds can potentially mask cues and communication sounds of dolphins. The soundscapes of four acoustically distinct outdoor dolphin facilities in Quintana Roo, Mexico were also characterized based on PAM, and findings compared with one another and with the measurements from the wild dolphin habitat. Recordings were made for at least 24 hours to encompass the range of daily activities. The four facilities differed in non-dolphin species present (biological sounds), bathymetry complexity, and method of water circulation. It was hypothesized that the greater the biological and physical differences of a pool from the ocean habitat, the greater the acoustic differences would be from the natural environment. Spectral analysis and audio playback revealed that the site most biologically and physically distinct from the ocean habitat also differed greatly from the other sites acoustically, with the most common and high amplitude sound being pump noise versus biological sounds at the other sites. Overall the dolphin facilities were neither clearly noisier nor more sterile than the wild site, but rather differed in particular characteristics. The findings are encouraging for dolphin welfare for several reasons. Sound levels measured were unlikely to cause threshold shifts in hearing. At three of four facilities, prominent biological sounds in the wild site ─ snapping shrimp and fish sounds ─ were present, meaning that the dolphins at these facilities are experiencing biotic features of the soundscape they would experience in the wild. Additionally, the main anthropogenic sounds experienced at the facilities (construction and cleaning sounds) did not reach the levels of the anthropogenic sounds experienced at the wild site (boat motor sounds), and the highest noise levels for anthropogenic sounds fall outside the dolphins' most sensitive range of hearing. However, there are anthropogenic contributors to the soundscape that are of particular interest and possible concern that should be investigated further, particularly pump noise and periodic or intermittent construction noise. These factors need to be considered on a facility-by-facility basis and appropriate mitigation procedures incorporated in animal handling to mitigate potential responses to planned or anticipated sound producing events, e.g. animal relocation or buffering sound producing activities. The central role of bioacoustics for dolphins means that PAM is a basic life support requirement along with water and food testing. Periodic noise is of highest concern, and PAM is needed to inform mitigation of noise from periodic sources. Priority actions are more widespread and long-term standardized monitoring, further research on habituation, preference, coupling and pool acoustics, implementation of acoustics training, standardization of measurements, and improved information access. (45670 kB) (45189 kB) (25613 kB)
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