Dolphins can learn from peers how to use shells as tools

The marine mammal learns how to hunt from mom, but not always, a study suggests

For some bottlenose dolphins, finding a meal may be about who you know.

Dolphins often learn how to hunt from their mothers. But when it comes to at least one foraging trick, Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins in Western Australia’s Shark Bay pick up the behavior from their peers, researchers argue in a report published online June 25 in Current Biology.

While previous studies have suggested that dolphins learn from peers, this study is the first to quantify the importance of social networks over other factors, says Sonja Wild, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Konstanz in Germany.

Cetaceans — dolphins, whales and porpoises — are known for using clever strategies to round up meals. Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) off Alaska sometimes use their fins and circular bubble nets to catch fish (SN: 10/15/19). At Shark Bay, Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) use sea sponges to protect their beaks while rooting for food on the seafloor, a strategy the animals learn from their mothers (SN: 6/8/05).

These Shark Bay dolphins also use a more unusual tool-based foraging method called shelling.  A dolphin will trap underwater prey in a large sea snail shell, poke its beak into the shell’s opening, lift the shell above the water’s surface and shake the contents into its mouth.

“It is pretty mind-blowing,” says Wild, who studied these dolphins as a graduate student at the University of Leeds in England. This brief behavior appears to be rare: From 2007 to 2018, Wild and colleagues documented 42 shelling events by 19 individual dolphins out of 5,278 dolphin group encounters in the western gulf of Shark Bay.

The researchers analyzed the behavior of 310 dolphins, including 15 shellers, that had been seen at least 11 times. The dolphins’ network of social interactions explained shelling’s spread better than other factors, including genetic relatedness and the amount of environmental overlap between dolphins. Wild likens the proliferation of this behavior to the spread of a virus. “Just by spending time with each other, [dolphins] are more likely to transmit those behaviors,” she says. The researchers estimate that 57 percent of the dolphins that shell learned the skill via social transmission, rather than on their own.

But the researchers may be premature in dismissing environmental and maternal factors, says Janet Mann, a biologist at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., who also studies dolphin behavior at Shark Bay. The environment affects where shelling can occur. “Those shells are found in particular habitats, and animals who overlap in those habitats would have access to those shells, but also bump into each other more often,” she says. A dolphin’s shelling behavior could also have been influenced during the tens of thousands of hours the animal spent as a youngster watching its mother.

“Dolphins are smart: They watch each other and see what others do,” she says.


Why many good trainers are unhappy or cannot get a job?

Many good and experienced trainers are looking for jobs at the moment, many of them comment to me about their worries and frustration. They keep asking why, with all our experience, we cannot return to an animal trainer position.

Many professional trainers with excellent experience, good human qualities and team players, are very worried about their future. They either struggle to find a job, or when they do, they often do not seem to progress too far and seem to be the first to be laid off work

It is normal for trainers to feel confused and to ask themselves what they are doing wrong. This situation makes these trainers feel insecure about their abilities and skills.

I would like to suggest why this often happens, to help explain that it is not any fault of the trainer and to encourage trainers to keep positive and retain their dreams of furthering the career they love.

Here are some important observations to remember;

  • Some companies have little regard for quality and are happy to employ trainers who just do the minimum to get the job done. Much of what a good trainer can add, may not be appreciated by a new employer, so be patient and you may be able to eventually show how the extra care you take, is beneficial to them.
  • Remember companies hire trainers who will easily follow the system they have in place, so you will need to fit in. In time you may be able to suggest better ways of working, but this may not always be possible.
  • Where new Management comes in, a new company may bring their own trainers in or train new ones, so they retain their way of doing things, rather than have existing trainers, who may be reluctant to change to a new way of working.
  • You may get offered a job but the pay is much lower than you should be rewarded for your experience. Employers will always try to keep pay down if they can, consider the market at the time and the supply, you may need to the take a job and try to better your position in time, if you can.

We know these things are not fair, but this is a very competitive environment and you must learn to ride the wave in difficult times. Do not get disheartened with yourself, do not take it personal, it just the way business works. You just need to find out what works for you and find a way to go around any problem. You are a trainer; you solve problems not give in to them. Learn about the environment and adapt your behaviour to suit the business world you are wishing to operate in.

My advice at this difficult time;

  • Do to the Covid-19 virus, most jobs opportunities are frozen at the moment, many companies have laid off a big percentage of their staff, consequently you need to be patient, now more than ever.
  • During this crisis, use your time wisely, take every opportunity to study and increase your knowledge as much as you can, that way you will be more prepared, more effective and provide a better prospect for employers, when you seek your next opportunity.
  • Stay positive and ambitious, there will be opportunities in the future, make sure you are ready for them and stay alert to where and when they may arise.
  • Stay connected, we can help each other, sharing knowledge, experience, help and guidance as well as passing alerts for new jobs. We all need support, especially now, those in work can help alert others when new jobs arise, those out of work can give support to others in their position and those who can teach, can offer courses and mentoring, to improve the chances of trainers whatever their situation.

Finally, remember who you are, as trainers you already possess the skills to modify behaviour in animals, use your skills to control your behaviour and encourage through positive reinforcement, your path through this difficult time. Remember and celebrate your own ability, be creative, be patient and above all stay positive.

Discover the History of Dolphin Show

This practice goes back to the nineteenth century when in 1860 a pair of belugas whales (Delphinapterus leucas) were held in the Museum of New York. Although Belugas are not precisely dolphins, the event marked a before and after in the dolphinarium industry. Several years passed until in 1938 the Marine Studios opened a dolphinarium in Florida, with the business model as we know today, this is, the one in which an audience pay to see dolphins doing tricks, and at that time they began with a bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus).

Marine Studios of Florida, later became Marineland and it has the title of being the first dolphinarium in the world. In 2011 the Georgia Aquarium purchased the park.

When this park opened, people realized that dolphins were able to learn tricks and perform stunts if trained, so this created a whole new industry that grew over time, and many other dolphinariums opened to the public. By 1970, there were about 36 dolphinariums in the United Kingdom alone.

Keeping dolphins in captivity is a practice not approved by conservationists and animal rights protectors.

It is important to say that captive dolphins are not only in dolphinariums and water parks to amuse people who pay to see a show. Sometimes dolphins are there for the purpose of being studied or protected if they are in danger of extinction.


Indo-Pacific bottle-nose dolphin

The Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops aduncus) is a species of bottlenose dolphin. This dolphin grows to 2.6 m (8.5 ft) long, and weighs up to 230 kg (510 lb).[3] It lives in the waters around India, northern Australia, South China, the Red Sea, and the eastern coast of Africa. Its back is dark grey and its belly is lighter grey or nearly white with grey spots.

Until 1998, all bottlenose dolphins were considered members of the single species T. Truncatus. In that year, the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin was recognized as a separate species. The Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin is generally smaller than the common bottlenose dolphin, has a proportionately longer rostrum, and has spots on its belly and lower sides. It also has more teeth than the common bottlenose dolphin — 23 to 29 teeth on each side of each jaw compared to 21 to 24 for the common bottlenose dolphin.[6] Some evidence shows the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin may actually be more closely related to certain dolphin species in the genera Stenella and Delphinus, especially the Atlantic spotted dolphin (S. frontalis), than it is to the common bottlenose dolphin.

Much of the old scientific data in the field combine data about the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin and the common bottlenose dolphin into a single group, making it effectively useless in determining the structural differences between the two species. The IUCN lists the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin as “near threatened” in their Red List of endangered species.


Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins live in groups that can number in the hundreds, but groups of five to 15 dolphins are most common. In some parts of their range, they associate with the common bottlenose dolphin and other dolphin species, such as the humpback dolphin.

The peak mating and calving seasons are in the spring and summer, although mating and calving occur throughout the year in some regions. Gestation period is about 12 months. Calves are between 0.84 and 1.5 m (2.8 and 4.9 ft) long, and weigh between 9 and 21 kg (20 and 46 lb). The calves are weaned between 1.5 and 2.0 years, but can remain with their mothers for up to 5 years. The interbirth interval for females is typically 4 to 6 years.

In some parts of its range, this dolphin is subject to predation by sharks; its lifespan is more than 40 years.

Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins located in Shark Bay, Australia, are thought to have a symbiotic relationship with sponges by doing what is called “sponging”. A dolphin breaks a marine sponge off the sea floor and wears it over its rostrum, apparently to probe substrates for fish, possibly as a tool, or simply for play.

The first report and footage of spontaneous ejaculation in an aquatic mammal was recorded in a wild Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin near Mikura Island, Japan, in 2012.

A tribe of Austral indigenous people on the Mornington Island have been communicating with wild dolphins for millennia. They are said to have “a medicine man who calls the dolphins and “speaks” to them telepathically. By these communications he assures that the tribes’ fortunes and happiness are maintained.”

Source: WKPD

How to know if a behaviour is finished training?

Based on positive reinforcement, Operant Conditioning

Behaviour at criteria

Behaviour shaping

Many trainers when they are training a new behaviour, they believe that once the basics steps of a behaviour is thought the it’s completed or finished. This is contradictory as we clearly know that is more difficult to keep a behaviour continuously on shape than training it for first time.

When training animals for public interaction your behaviour must be at criteria in order to develop a quality service.

If you were a guest and you were having a unique experience such as an interaction with these animals. Which of these images you would you like to take with you?

This is the reason why in this case trainers and video department must work together and synchronised, so others could take with them the best memory ever!!!