The Wild Dolphin Project was started by Dr. Denise Herzing back in 1985. Since then Dr. Herzing, along with her colleagues and graduate students, put out multiple peer reviewed research papers on the behavior, acoustics, and ecology of the two species we study in the Bahamas. Over the years she has observed behaviors that are more “rare” or are “one-offs” meaning there is not a large enough sample size in which to do a proper scientific study. However, these behaviors are still very interesting and hopefully you enjoy learning about them. Be sure to check out all of the blogs in this rare behavior series (Can anyone hear me, Pesky Remoras, Bottom Behavior, Bubbles, Synchrony,Hunting).


Let’s all get in sync!


Synchrony.  We all know what it is.  We all use it sometimes without thinking about it.  But did you know that dolphins use synchrony in many important ways?  

The dolphins we study in the Bahamas are often observed synchronizing their postures or vocalizations.  Over the decades we have observed a few very unique uses of this type of coordination. Dolphins synchronize their surface breaths to show coordination as part of a team.  Dolphins synchronize their vocalizations when chasing an enemy.  And dolphins use synchrony in male competition, coordinating with other males to get access to female dolphins. 

In the Bahamas we regularly observe Atlantic spotted dolphin males and bottlenose dolphins interacting and this often involves fighting.  Dolphins fight for various reasons, but since bottlenose dolphins are a bit larger than spotted dolphins, they usually have the advantage. One thing we have observed many times over the decades is the spotted dolphins forming groups of 6 or more, to fend off one bottlenose dolphin. Synchronizing their swimming moves and postures, as well as their vocalizations, is often involved in this behavior. 

Here are some examples.

In this video clip you can see a coordinated group of upside-down-male spotted dolphins chasing a larger bottlenose dolphin.  The spotted dolphins are not only close together with their mouths open (usually a sign of aggression), but their sounds are synchronized as well, as they chase the bottlenose dolphin.  This should give the impression of a bigger entity to scare the offending bottlenose dolphin away. Years ago, colleague Christine Johnson and I calculated that it took 6 male spotted dolphins to be able to fend-away a large aggressive bottlenose male dolphin. It seems that the smaller spotted dolphins compensate by forming groups to fight off enemies and predators.  In other parts of the world, like Shark Bay Australia, dolphins synchronize their surfacing and breath to coordinate their behavior, often related to monopolizing a female in estrus.  

Now bottlenose dolphins are the most studied dolphin in the world, but in the Bahamas, it is often hard to observe their natural social behavior underwater.  The bottlenose dolphins, for some reason, are often less tolerant of human researchers in the water.  But one day we had a unique opportunity to watch a large group of bottlenose dolphins put on a detailed show of their synchrony.  

In this video clip you can see two pairs of bottlenose dolphins coordinate their body turns going head-to-head while coordinating their whistles and buzzes.  A very unique observation, we suspect that these dyads of male bottlenose dolphins are somehow competing with each other, perhaps to show off who is the most coordinated.  One thing is for sure, it’s impressive, not matter what species you are!  

For further reading you can view and download these articles from

Connor, R. C., Smolker, R., & Bejder, L. (2006). Synchrony, social behaviour and alliance affiliation in Indian Ocean bottlenose dolphins, Tursiops aduncusAnimal Behaviour72(6), 1371-1378.

Herzing, D.L. (1996). Vocalizations and associated underwater behavior of free-ranging Atlantic spotted dolphins, Stenella frontalis, and bottlenose dolphins, Tursiops truncatus.  Aquatic Mammals 22 (2), 61-79.

Herzing D.L., and Johnson, C.M. (1997) Interspecific interactions between Atlantic spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis) and bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in the Bahamas, 1985-1995. Aquatic Mammals, 23 (2) 85-99.

Herzing, D. L. (2015).  Synchronous and Rhythmic Vocalizations and Correlated Underwater Behavior of Free-ranging Atlantic Spotted Dolphins (Stenella frontalis) and Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). Animal Behavior and Cognition 2(1):14-30.    

Myers, A. J., Herzing, D. L., & Bjorklund, D. F. (2017). Synchrony during aggression in adult male Atlantic spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis). Acta Ethologica20(2), 175-185.