Theodolite Thursday: Dolphins Learn Unusual Hunting Behavior

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Yes…another new heading. From Merriam-Webster:

[A] surveyor’s instrument for measuring horizontal and […] vertical angles

This is the instrument of land surveyors. In my case, I will survey other things. ~Vic

Dolphins Unsplash Image
Photo Credit: Courtnie Tosana on Unsplash

In the crystal clear waters of Shark Bay in Western Australia, scientists have noticed bottlenose dolphins engaging in an unusual behavior. They guide fish into the empty shells of giant snails, bring the shells to the surface and, then, shake them vigorously to dislodge the prey into their open mouths like a person polishing off a bag of popcorn. That extra effort, known as shelling, gets them a guaranteed meal.

Because the dolphins […] use the shells as a trap, this is the second known case of these marine mammals using tools. The first was reported in [1984] when researchers found that bottlenose dolphins wear marine sponges like protective gloves over their beaks to forage for fish on the sea floor. Now, researchers have shown that the dolphins of Shark Bay learn shelling from their friends. It’s the first time social learning involving a tool has been discovered in these mammals and a rare example of such learning in the animal kingdom.

Dolphins Unsplash Image Two
Photo Credit: Red Charlie on Unsplash

Though scientists noticed the shelling behavior more than 10 years ago, it became more frequent following an unusual marine heat wave (PDF) off Western Australia in 2011. The high temperatures roiled Shark Bay’s ecosystem and many gastropods, including sea snails, are believed to have died. “We think the dolphins took advantage of this die-off,” says Sonja Wild, a behavioral ecologist at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior. “The next season,” she says, “there was an incredible increase in shelling”, which made it possible for her to tease out how young adult dolphins learn to do it.

Wild says shelling starts among the adults [but], the more time a young dolphin spends around an accomplished sheller […], “the more likely it is to learn” the technique and pass it on to others later. Still, because dolphin calves spend more than 30,000 hours with their mothers, it’s possible that some learned the trick from their moms, [states] Janet Mann, a dolphin expert at Georgetown University. It’s considered more cognitively demanding to learn a skill like shelling from an unrelated individual because both learner and demonstrator must be socially tolerant, especially while hunting.

Virginia Morell
Science Magazine
June 25, 2020

5 thoughts on “Theodolite Thursday: Dolphins Learn Unusual Hunting Behavior

    badfinger20 (Max) said:
    June 27, 2020 at 2:21 PM

    That was totally interesting Vic…I loved that. Very smart animals…the sponge to protect them also is something else.

    Thanks Vic…awesome post!…and no I’m not being a smart aleck. I love this stuff.

      The Hinoeuma responded:
      June 27, 2020 at 3:09 PM

      LOL! But…you ARE a smart aleck! LOL! Glad you enjoyed.

      When it comes to nature and animals, I’m there. Even when Attenborough gets all patronizing over the “global warming” nonsense, I still love his shows on BBCAmerica.

      Would you believe me if I told you that many dolphins have human souls in them? It’s recorded in the Akashic and CT did some writing on it. Those were souls that did some relatively bad things on Atlantis and decided it was best if they didn’t return in human form. I’m not saying all dolphins have human souls but, many do.

      I remember going to the Raleigh natural science museum about 20 years ago. They had a whale’s skeleton suspended from the ceiling. Their bone structure is very similar to ours. I was surprised. It resembled a gigantic human skeleton. I always call whales & dolphins our cousins.

        badfinger20 (Max) said:
        June 27, 2020 at 3:16 PM

        Yes I am and I’ve worked very hard to perfect it! Maybe one day I will.

        With Dolphins yes I would believe it. Who doesn’t love Flipper? When I was a kid I wanted to live in Florida and have a dolphin and a bear (Gentle Ben).

        They have been known to protect humans from sharks and actually save them. I’m sure just like everything else there are a few bad ones…but on the whole they are wonderful animals.

    bayphotosbydonna said:
    July 7, 2020 at 8:07 PM

    Interesting stuff!!!!

      The Hinoeuma responded:
      July 8, 2020 at 12:56 AM

      Stuff like that fascinates me.

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