Biosonar behaviour of free-ranging porpoises

Proc Biol Sci. 2005 Apr 22;272(1565):797-801. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2004.3024.


Detecting objects in their paths is a fundamental perceptional function of moving organisms. Potential risks and rewards, such as prey, predators, conspecifics or non-biological obstacles, must be detected so that an animal can modify its behaviour accordingly. However, to date few studies have considered how animals in the wild focus their attention. Dolphins and porpoises are known to actively use sonar or echolocation. A newly developed miniature data logger attached to a porpoise allows for individual recording of acoustical search efforts and inspection distance based on echolocation. In this study, we analysed the biosonar behaviour of eight free-ranging finless porpoises (Neophocaena phocaenoides) and demonstrated that these animals inspect the area ahead of them before swimming silently into it. The porpoises inspected distances up to 77 m, whereas their swimming distance without using sonar was less than 20 m. The inspection distance was long enough to ensure a wide safety margin before facing real risks or rewards. Once a potential prey item was detected, porpoises adjusted their inspection distance from the remote target throughout their approach.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Echolocation / physiology*
  • Porpoises / physiology*
  • Sound Spectrography
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Spatial Behavior / physiology*
  • Swimming / physiology
  • Telemetry
  • Time Factors