Dolphins behave better after listening to Bach and Beethoven, study finds

14 July 2022, 16:29 | Updated: 14 July 2022, 16:56

Bottlenose dolphins enjoyed listening to Bach as part of the study
Bottlenose dolphins enjoyed listening to Bach as part of the study. Picture: Getty

By Sophia Alexandra Hall

Beethoven’s ‘Almost a Fantasy’ and ‘The Swan’ by Saint-Saëns are just some of the pieces of classical music enjoyed by Italian dolphins involved in this latest scientific study.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

Most scientists agree that dolphins are very intelligent creatures. The species have demonstrated in multiple studies that they are quick learners, empathetic, self-aware, and great at problem solving.

But a recent study published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science has now proved that dolphins are also music lovers, and that classical music specifically could improve social behaviours of the aquatic animals.

Researchers at the University of Padua in Italy found that playing classical music resulted in the dolphins showing more interest in each other, giving more gentle touches and swimming in synchrony for longer.

Eight dolphins in the eastern beach-front city of Riccione, Italy, were played 20 minutes of classical music a day via an underwater speaker for seven sessions. The aquatic mammals heard a number of pieces of classical music including Bach’s Prelude BWV 846, Grieg’s ‘Morning Mood’ from Peer Gynt, Debussy’s Reflets dans l’eau, Beethoven’s Almost a Fantasy, and ‘The Swan’ from The Carnival of the Animals by Saint-Saëns.

Read more: Dolphins respond to flute-playing, proving live music could improve aquatic communication

Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in the Caribbean Sea
Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in the Caribbean Sea. Picture: Getty

On other days, the dolphins were played the sound of rainfall for 20 minutes (auditory stimulus), given floating toys to play with for 20 minutes (an already known form of enrichment for the animals), or shown natural environments on television screens for 20 minutes (visual stimulus).

The group of dolphins was made up of five female and three male dolphins between the ages of five and 49 years old. Three of these dolphins, which are housed at a dolphinarium in Riccione, were born in the wild.

The researchers found that only the music had a long-lasting positive effect on the dolphins’ behaviour. As only classical music was used, the researchers admitted the results may not be specific to just the classical genre, but that classical music could be particularly useful when improving social behaviours in dolphins.

The use of music was also a particularly useful tool for when the animals were under stress or in situations that could lead to increased conflicts.

Read more: The time a Russian icebreaker played classical music, and saved thousands of Beluga whales

Gautier Capuçon – The Swan… on top of a mountain

Lead researcher Dr Cécile Guérineau said the way the dolphins acted, suggested they were showing happiness.

“This system is linked to reward, social motivation, pleasure and pain perception,” explained Dr Guérineau. “Activation of opioids receptors is correlated with a feeling of euphoria. [And] we know that in a wide range of animals – from mammals, monkeys, dogs, rats etc, to non-mammals, birds – endorphins, i.e. one type of endogenous opioids, are related to social bonding.

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

Listen on Global Player: ‘Music for Pets’ live playlist to calm animals