Just How Smart Are Dolphins?

From BBC - Science & Nature.

At the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Mississippi, Kelly the dolphin has quite a reputation. All the institute's dolphins are trained to hold onto any litter that falls into their pools until they see a trainer, when they can trade the litter for fish. Kelly took this task one step further. When people drop paper into the water she hides it under a rock at the bottom of the pool.

The next time a trainer passes, she tears off a piece of paper to give to the trainer. After a fish-reward, she goes back down, tears off another piece of paper, gets another fish, and so on.

At Kewalo Basin Marine Laboratory in Hawaii, Lou Herman and his team have developed a sign language to communicate with the dolphins, and the results are remarkable. Not only do the dolphins understand the meaning of individual words, they also understand the significance of word order in a sentence.

Most mammals seem to enjoy play - but dolphins seem to like making their games as challenging as possible. A killer whale calf learned the trick of luring gulls to the surface of the water with fish. When the gulls landed on the water, the killer whale would then attempt to capture them in her mouth, without killing them.

Once she mastered this skill, she made the task more challenging for herself: instead of waiting for the gulls to land on the water, she tried to capture the gulls on their descent when they were more than a metre above the water surface.


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