Grandma & Grandpa's Farm

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Walk the Walk -- A Dolphin Tail

Culture in Dolphins

It seems that like Humans and Apes; Dolphins share culture among themselves. Near Adelaide on the south coast of Australia is a group of dolphins is learning to "tail-walk". (image to right -- image from BBC NEWS) Tail-walking is not a typical behaviour found in dolphins in the wild but is one taught to them in captivity. A female dolphin in that group, Billie, had spent a short time in a dolphinarium 20 years ago¹.

Twenty years ago Billie had been trapped in a marina lock and was suffering from malnutrition and sickness so they put her in a local dolphinarium for a few weeks in the 1980's. She was never trained while their, but apparently she had seen other dolphins at the dolphinarium tail-walking. It is inferred that with other females in her group having picked up the behaviour of tail-walking that they have learned it from Billie.

Mike Bossley-Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society²

"It would seem that among the Port River dolphins we may have an incipient tail-walking culture."

Sharing cultural behaviour is something that is known in apes and it has been documented that dolphins off Western Australia are known to use sponges as an aid in gathering food and to teach their young how to use them². Tail-walking would be considered a "cultural behaviour"² like language which helps define a group. "we may have an incipient tail-walking culture."²

I know that many species of whales, dolphins, and their kin have differences in "language" between different populations that are different enough that the part of the world an individual is from can be told by the dialect/accent of their speech-song-voice even while they are physically the same species and I believe it has been shown that this is learned behaviour

It is interesting that a skill that probably was learned by one individual in a few weeks by observation by one dolphin has now been mastered and is being taught in her family group. I think it is very interesting how many things we think of as definingly "human" is within the scope of some animal we have studied. Of course dolphins are very intelligent creatures that are very social.

I even recall seeing that sometimes dolphins and whales might even cooperate with feeding... We should try be more like dolphins.

~ Darrell


¹ "Wild dolphins tail-walk on water" Richard Black 19 August 2008, BBC NEWS | Science/Nature.

² Dr Mike Bossley, Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, scientist monitoring the group on the Port River estuary.

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