Dolphins continue to astound us with their behaviors and abilities. A recent study followed a group of wild bottlenose dolphins in Laguna, Brazil that have shown a unique talent – they help local fishermen with their catch. With no formal training, the dolphins swim around schools of fish to group them together, so that the fisherman have a better chance of catching them. When they have rounded up a number of fish, the dolphins make noise by slapping their heads or tails to let the fisherman know when they should throw their nets.
Some fish that escape the nets swim back towards the dolphins, which means they get to eat some too. So their behavior is not without some reward, but the reward is a byproduct of their clever behavior, not something given to them by the fisherman.
The resident bottlenose dolphin population near Laguna, Brazil has been estimated at less than 55, and about 45 percent of them interact with fisherman.
The dolphins cooperative behavior was documented in a study published recently in the Royal Society Biology Letters. How they learned to engage in the behavior benefiting the fisherman and themselves is currently unknown, but it has been documented that dolphins are capable of complex cooperation.
One observation the researchers made from their 95 days of studying the dolphins, was that the more social dolphins within their own community were the ones interacting with the fisherman. Social learning or learning through social interaction (to put it simply), could be what is allowing the particular group of cooperative dolphins to be so comfortable interacting with people in complex ways. In other words, the extra social learning they experienced amongst themselves had some effect on their mental functioning which they were able to transfer to interacting with humans.
The researchers also said it is likely the dolphins are passing on their knowledge of how to cooperate with the fisherman from generation to generation. (It is already known the fisherman pass on knowledge of cooperating with the helpful dolphins this way.)
Image Credit: NASA, Public Domain