Dolphin Societies: Discoveries and Puzzles

Karen Pryor + Kenneth S. Norris (editors)

University of California Press 1991
A book review by Danny Yee © 1999
As a collection of scientific papers, Dolphin Societies has its drawbacks for the general reader. The lack of an introduction to basic dolphin ecology and biology limits accessibility and some of the material is on the technical side: details of theodolite tracking, aerial photography, and spectrograph analysis, for example. The core ideas of the papers are not complex, however, and there is plenty in Dolphin Societies that will be of broad interest.

Seven of the papers are studies of dolphin behaviour in the wild, covering herd structure, hunting, and play in Black Sea bottlenose dolphins; dolphin near-shore movement patterns; killer whale feeding ecology; killer whale interaction with boats; spinner dolphin behaviour in tuna nets before being released; long-term changes in a bottlenose dolphin community; and structure in large oceanic dolphin schools. Two papers report on laboratory studies: using teeth to track dolphin age and life-cycle events and using evidence from reproductive organs to assess the importance of post-reproductive female pilot whales. Studies of captive dolphins look at aggression and homosexual interaction between two male bottlenose dolphins, the cognitive abilities of dolphins and the extent of their knowledge of the world, "signature" whistles, and the psychoacoustics of dolphin echolocation.

No attempt is made to fit the papers into an overarching theoretical structure. Some short essays by Pryor and Norris do, however, set them in their in broader context, touching on methodological issues and the history of marine mammal science. Dolphin Societies gives a good feel for how much progress has been made in understanding cetacean behaviour, but it also highlights how far behind it lags work on other animals. More sophisticated technology and methodological insights from broader ethology will provide solutions to existing puzzles — and new vistas for exploration.

May 1999

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- more animals + zoology
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%T Dolphin Societies
%S Discoveries and Puzzles
%E Pryor, Karen
%E Norris, Kenneth S.
%I University of California Press
%D 1991
%O paperback, index
%G ISBN 0520216563
%P vi,397pp