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"Kerplunking" Is An Actual Scientific Term

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Fun fact: "kerplunking" is an actual scientific term used to describe a certain type of foraging behavior among bottlenose dolphins.

Its first usage appears to have been in a 2000 article in the journal Marine Mammal Science written by Richard Connor and colleagues. You may recognize Connor's name from just about every research paper written on the intensively-studied bottlenose dolphins of Shark Bay, Australia.

While in shallow water, the dolphins engage in what's called "bottom grubbing," which involves poking their faces into the sea grass to find fish.

While foraging over offshore flats (1.5-2.5 m), bottom-grubbing individuals sometimes perform peculiar fluke-slaps that produce a 1-3.5 m high splash of water and an audible "kerplunk" sound in air. Observations made during 1994-1995 suggest that such "kerplunks" may aid in the location or capture of fish by eliciting a startle response in hiding fish, revealing their location to the dolphin above.


Connor writes that the behavior is particularly interesting because it reveals a fairly sophisticated form of hunting. The dolphins capitalize on one predator avoidance system in fish (the startle response) in order to defeat a second predator avoidance behavior (hiding).


How can you tell the difference between a kerplunk and the dolphins' other types of tail slaps? Thankfully, Connor has provided some clues: "It is clear in Shark Bay, for example, that dolphins often slap the surface of the water during social bouts. These surface slaps are strikingly different from the percussive kerplunks, in which the cavitation splash rather than the surface splash produces the dominant visual and acoustic component of the behavior."

[Marine Mammal Science]

As a science writer, I learn new things all the time, and often they're random tidbits or factoids or cool things that aren't, themselves, enough for full post. Why keep those things to myself? So here's the first of a new recurring feature on Animals.io9.