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Dolphins Are Really Smart

August 22, 2013

Thanks for the update. Is this research really telling us anything we don’t already know?

A dog may be man’s best friend, but dolphins can imitate human actions, and even how they solve problems.

When a dolphin has one of its senses blocked, it can use other senses to mimic a human’s movements, according to a recent study.

A bottlenose dolphin named Tanner was blindfolded and instructed to copy the actions of a trainer in the water with him. When Tanner wasn’t able to use sight to figure out the movement, he switched to another technique: He would emit sounds, listen to the echo and interpret the resulting sound waves. This process — known as echolocation — allowed Tanner to mimic movements by the trainer, such as spinning in the water.

The study, conducted at the Dolphin Research Center in the Florida Keys, expands on earlier studies looking at how dolphins are able to imitate other dolphins while blindfolded. To see whether a change in sound would affect their imitation, researchers used humans instead of dolphins to make the movements in the water.

Kelly Jaakkola, research director of the marine mammal center, said researchers were surprised by Tanner’s use of echolocation.

“He outsmarted us,” Jaakkola said.

Honestly, I can’t think of anything less surprising, and this conclusion tells us little beyond what Lou Herman and his researchers already demonstrated many years ago.

I am not a fan of any captive research. But if it exists, it would be nice if it at least had to achieve some minimal threshold of utility–for the species being held captive. Not sure how humans impressing themselves over and over again with how smart and creative dolphins are is not redundant, or how it extends at this point beyond idle curiosity.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. August 22, 2013 9:44 am

    I agree! Just posted a new blogpost about Blackfish if you are interested:

  2. Amy M permalink
    August 22, 2013 9:54 am

    Tim – what also fascinates me is how researchers who work with animals in captivity only duplicate what researchers have known for years from observing animals in the wild! And when it comes to ending medical research on chimpanzees, I think what’s needed is a job retraining program for all the people who can’t think of any way to make their living than torturing animals!

  3. August 27, 2013 12:52 pm

    This is one reason why Lilly stopped doing research and returned the two Dolphins he had back to the Ocean. He realized nothing further could be learned by working on captive Cetaceans.

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