Manatee (Trichechus manatus) vocalization usage in relation to environmental noise levels

J Acoust Soc Am. 2009 Mar;125(3):1806-15. doi: 10.1121/1.3068455.


Noise can interfere with acoustic communication by masking signals that contain biologically important information. Communication theory recognizes several ways a sender can modify its acoustic signal to compensate for noise, including increasing the source level of a signal, its repetition, its duration, shifting frequency outside that of the noise band, or shifting the timing of signal emission outside of noise periods. The extent to which animals would be expected to use these compensation mechanisms depends on the benefit of successful communication, risk of failure, and the cost of compensation. Here we study whether a coastal marine mammal, the manatee, can modify vocalizations as a function of behavioral context and ambient noise level. To investigate whether and how manatees modify their vocalizations, natural vocalization usage and structure were examined in terms of vocalization rate, duration, frequency, and source level. Vocalizations were classified into two call types, chirps and squeaks, which were analyzed independently. In conditions of elevated noise levels, call rates decreased during feeding and social behaviors, and the duration of each call type was differently influenced by the presence of calves. These results suggest that ambient noise levels do have a detectable effect on manatee communication and that manatees modify their vocalizations as a function of noise in specific behavioral contexts.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Environment*
  • Noise*
  • Trichechus manatus
  • Vocalization, Animal*