Dolphins & Science: Part 2
More Advanced Than We Thought Porpoise-able
Before on our blog, we’ve talked about how dolphins are able to identify themselves in mirrors based on a 2001 study conducted at the New York Aquarium. The mirror self-recognition test, often called the mirror test for short, was developed in the 1970s by psychologist Gordon Gallup to measure self-awareness in animals and it has become the standard for such testing. As of 2016, a very select few animal species have passed the mirror test, including dolphins. In a study funded by the Research Foundation of The City University of New York published earlier this year, it was revealed that dolphins calves can recognize themselves at younger ages than chimps and human children. This was the first time that the mirror test was used on younger dolphins.
Going Beyond the Tank
People have been training dolphins for decades to do everything from amazing tricks in amusement parks to detecting bombs for the military (which you can read more about in this blog post). One of the trickiest parts of training dolphins is the limited contact and distance trainers are from them. That tricky challenge, however, is exactly what is benefitting other animals now. Recently, animal trainers and environmental conservationists have been using the training at a distance methods to help animals in the wild. In Sierra Leone, researchers have trained chimpanzees to scream when poachers are around. While it might sound silly, poaching in that area has decreased by 80%. Using the same techniques, researchers have taught polar bears to avoid civilizations and trained brown bears to stay away from trash cans. Dolphins bred in captivity that are going to be set free also benefit from this training; these dolphins can be trained to act more like wild dolphins before being released. You can see dolphins in the wild on one of our dolphin cruises!
In a study at the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies, located in Mississippi, dolphins are trained to clean their own tanks, like children are taught to clean their rooms. Whenever a dolphin brings a piece of trash to the trainer, they are rewarded with a fish. However, one sneaky dolphin named Kelly found a way to get more fish: Instead of bringing the trash directly to the animal trainer, she would hide the trash and break it into pieces, earning more fish per piece of rubbish she found. This showed dolphins have the capability to plan for the future and understand reward based systems. In a different study, wild dolphins in Shark Bay, Australia were observed breaking off pieces of natural sponges to hold in their mouths to protect their noses while digging for food left by other animals in rocky areas.