In dolphins, natural selection has developed unihemispheric sleep where alternating hemispheres of their brain stay awake. This allows dolphins to maintain consciousness in response to respiratory demands of the ocean. Unihemispheric sleep may also allow dolphins to maintain vigilant states over long periods of time. Because of the relatively poor visibility in the ocean, dolphins use echolocation to interrogate their environment. During echolocation, dolphin produce clicks and listen to returning echoes to determine the location and identity of objects. The extent to which individual dolphins are able to maintain continuous vigilance through this active sense is unknown. Here we show that dolphins may continuously echolocate and accurately report the presence of targets for at least 15 days without interruption. During a total of three sessions, each lasting five days, two dolphins maintained echolocation behaviors while successfully detecting and reporting targets. Overall performance was between 75 to 86% correct for one dolphin and 97 to 99% correct for a second dolphin. Both animals demonstrated diel patterns in echolocation behavior. A 15-day testing session with one dolphin resulted in near perfect performance with no significant decrement over time. Our results demonstrate that dolphins can continuously monitor their environment and maintain long-term vigilant behavior through echolocation.
Branstetter, B. K., Finneran, J. J., Fletcher, E. A., Weisman, B. C., & Ridgway, S. H. (2012). Dolphins Can Maintain Vigilant Behavior through Echolocation for 15 Days without Interruption or Cognitive Impairment. PLoS ONE, 7(10). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0047478