The Creative Dolphin: What Dolphins Do When Asked to Vary Their Behavior

The Creative Dolphin: What Dolphins Do When Asked to Vary Their Behavior


(bubbling sound) (upbeat music) Have you ever wondered how smart dolphins are? Well, you’re not alone. However, instead of wondering how smart they are, we may want to consider, “How are dolphins smart?” To access cognitive abilities in dolphins, we as researchers derive performance-based tasks which we believe reflect cognitive abilities. The variability of dolphin behavior is evident in their communication, foraging, as well as play. Dolphins can even vary their behavior when asked to do so by humans. Researchers at Dolphins Plus Bayside in Key Largo, Florida, and the University of Southern Mississippi sought out to report similarities and differences in the performance of three bottlednose dolphins during the varied tasks. We know that dolphins have the ability to understand human hand gestures, called signals. Each of these signals has a distinct meaning, and the dolphins are rewarded with fish when they execute them correctly. However, our question was to investigate what dolphins do when given a hand signal in which they’re able to respond with any behavior of their choice, with the only stipulation being that the dolphins could not repeat the same behavior twice. Following the work of Karen Pryor and her colleagues, this ability is commonly referred to as the creative behavior, a bit of a misnomer since dolphins need not always create a new behavior to succeed on the task. (dolphin squealing) Nonetheless, when given a task in which success depends on not repeating what one has already done, dolphins are able to remember what they have done and successfully produce a new behavior. Sometimes even a completely novel one. Similar to a game of memory where you need to remember your previous actions of what card you flipped over where, the same holds true for the dolphins. They need to remember the behaviors that have previously been done in order to continue to succeed on the task. The dolphins could opt to use low, medium, or high energy behaviors to satisfy the criterion of varying their behavior. The dolphins differed significantly in terms of energy level of behaviors they produced. Alfonz and Kimbit were more likely to use low energy behaviors, where Leo was much more likely to use high energy behaviors. However, Leo diversified his strategy from trial to trial, also utilizing low and medium energy behaviors. Each dolphin produced a number of behaviors that had never been reinforced by the trainers prior to the occurrence of the very task. Dolphins did differ in their ability to produce strings of behavior that were not repeated, suggesting that there may have been differences in short term memory capacity of each dolphin. The results support the notion that dolphins represent their past action and are able to use these representations to either repeat or modify something they have done. (upbeat music)

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