Ambient sound affects movement and calls of bottlenose dolphins

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Abundant oceanic shipping and more frequent and intense storms are increasing sound levels in aquatic habitats. Understanding how changing soundscapes affect protected species, especially those that use sound to communicate and navigate, is critical. This study utilizes passive acoustic monitoring to investigate the effects of changing ambient sound levels on bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) movements, spatial utilization, and social calls in the Mid-Atlantic Bight, USA. By localizing dolphin whistles, I determined that their habitat use changed under higher ambient sound levels and that these elevated sound levels caused dolphins to alter the acoustic characteristics of their calls. The acoustic characteristics of individually identifiable calls (signature whistles) also varied between the sites and regions in which they were recorded. As changes in the underwater soundscape continue in the future, these findings will help inform resource managers about how protected marine mammals may be affected by anthropogenic activities and sounds.