Dolphins learn how to use tools from peers, just like great apes

The study upends the belief that only mothers teach hunting skills, adding to growing evidence of dolphin intelligence, experts say.

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Bottlenose dolphins hunt in French Polynesia's Rangiroa Channel. The marine mammals use two types of tools to find food, a rare behavior in nature.

In Shark Bay, Australia, bottlenose dolphinsthat aren’t related have been observed teaching each other a new way to use a tool, a behavior that until now scientists have found only in humans and other great apes.

It’s also the first known example of dolphins transmitting such knowledge within the same generation, rather than between generations. That’s significant, the authors say, because such social learning between peers is rare in nature.

In a practice called shelling, dolphins will chase fish into abandoned giant snail shells on the seafloor, then bring the shells to the surface shake them with their noses, draining the water and catching the fish that fall out.

Dolphin mothers generally teach their young how to hunt: Shark Bay dolphin moms, for instance, teach their offspring sponging, another form of tool use in which dolphins put sponges on their beaks to protect them while foraging among rocks. (Explore our interactive of the tools animals use.).

"The fact that shelling is socially transmitted among dolphin peers rather than between mother and offspring sets an important milestone, and highlights similarities with...

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