Animals (2021)

DOI: 10.3390/ani11020511


Yangtze finless porpoises use high-frequency clicks to navigate, forage, and communicate. The way in which click production may vary depending on social or environmental context has never been investigated. A group of five captive Yangtze finless porpoises was monitored for one year, and 107 h of audio recordings was collected under different conditions. Using a MATLAB-generated interface, we extracted click density (i.e., number of clicks per minute) from these recordings and analyzed its variation depending on the context. As expected, click density increased as the number of animals present increased. The click density did not exhibit diurnal variations but did have seasonal variations, with click density being highest in summer and fall. Yangtze finless porpoises produced more clicks when socially separated than when not (136% more), during training/feeding sessions than outside of such sessions (312% more), when enrichment was provided (265% more on average), and when noisy events occurred rather than when no unusual event occurred (22% more). The click density decreased when many visitors were present in the facility (up to 35% less). These results show that Yangtze finless porpoises modulate their click production depending on the context and suggest that their echolocation activity and their emotional state may be linked to these changes. Such context-dependent variations also indicate the potential usefulness of monitoring acoustical activity as part of a welfare assessment tool in this species. Additionally, the click density variation found in captivity could be useful for understanding click rate variations of wild populations that are hardly visible.