Dolphins are incredibly cultural creatures, as they not only appreciate but also derive enjoyment from listening to the timeless compositions of Beethoven and Bach.


Jul 21, 2023

They are known to be very intelligent. But it seems dolphins are cultured too.

A study suggests they are fond of classical music. Dolphins played Bach, Grieg, Saint-Saens, Debussy and Beethoven showed more sociable behaviour.

The mammals showed more interest in each other, gave more gentle touches and swam in synchrony for longer, researchers from the University of Padua in Italy found.

Giving them toys or playing other sounds did not have the same effect.

The way the dolphins behaved after hearing the music suggested they were feeling happy, perhaps because it activated their brains to produce endogenous opioids – chemicals such as endorphins which influence mood.

(Stock Image) Famed for their intelligence, dolphins also seem to be fond of classical music, which appears to make them more sociable

‘We know that, in a wide range of animals, endorphins are related to social bonding,’ said lead researcher Dr Cecile Guerineau. ‘Activation of opioids receptors is correlated with a feeling of euphoria.’ Her team studied eight bottlenose dolphins, using an underwater speaker to play them classical music.

The findings are published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science.

Dolphins may also be able to perceive rhythm because they are a vocal-learning species, Dr Guerineau said. It may be that, similar to how dancing at a party makes us feel good and helps people to bond, when dolphins synchronise to a beat, they also feel good and connect with their fellow swimmers.

For the study, Dr Guerineau’s team studied eight bottlenose dolphins housed in a dolphinarium in Riccione, Italy. There were five females and three males aged five to 49 years old, of which three had been born in the wild.

They were studied in a pool that was separate from the exhibition area and out of the view of the public, ensuring an undisturbed environment.

An underwater speaker was used to play the dolphins 20 minutes of classical music per day every few days, for a total of seven sessions.

The compilation consisted of six pieces: Prelude BWV 846 by Bach; Morning Mood from Peer Gynt by Grieg; The Swan from The Carnival of the Animals by Charles Camille Saint-Saens; Reflets dans l’eau by Debussy; and Almost a Fantasy by Beethoven.

On seven other randomly selected days each they were played the sound of rainfall for 20 minutes; shown a 20-minute video of natural environments on TV monitors; or given floating toys to play with for 20 minutes.

The activities were presented in a randomised order, and the dolphins’ behaviour was recorded using two camcorders.

The researchers concluded that playing classical music to dolphins could be particularly useful when the animals were under stress, or in other situations that may lead to increased conflict, or when changes needed to be made to the social composition of the group.

A previous study by the National Autonomous University of Mexico found that classical music also increased sociable behaviour in laboratory-housed chimps, while research by Queen’s University in Belfast found it reduced aggressive, abnormal behaviour in gorillas.

The findings were published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science.

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