Jones, B. L., McClain, A. M., Sportelli, J. J. et al. 2023. Return of sound production as a biomarker of bottlenose dolphin emergence from anesthesia. Animals 13(15), 2531.

(1) Background: When a human or animal is recovering from general anesthesia, their medical team uses several behavioral and physiological parameters to assess their emergence from the unconscious state to complete wakefulness. However, the return of auditory and acoustic behaviors indicative of the complete return of consciousness in humans can be difficult to assess in a completely aquatic non-human mammal. Dolphins produce sound using the nasal system while using both passive auditory and active biological sonar (echolocation) to navigate and interrogate their environment. The sounds generated by dolphins, such as whistles and clicks, however, can be difficult to hear when the animal is submerged. (2) Methods: We implemented a system to audibly and visually (i.e., using spectrograms) monitor the underwater acoustic behavior of dolphins recovering from anesthesia. (3) Results: Eleven of the twelve recorded dolphins began echolocating within 92 min (Mean = 00:43:41 HH:MM:SS) following spontaneous respirations. In all cases, the dolphins echolocated prior to whistling (Mean = 04:57:47). The return of echolocation was significantly correlated to the return of the righting reflex (Mean = 1:13:44), a commonly used behavioral indicator of dolphin emergence. (4) Conclusions: We suggest that acoustic monitoring for the onset of click production may be a useful supplement to the established medical and behavioral biomarkers of restoring consciousness following anesthesia in bottlenose dolphins.