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Bottlenose dolphins understand their partner’s role in a cooperative task

29.09.2018 11:15

A new study co-authored by Branco Weiss Fellow Stephanie King shows that bottlenose dolphins not only cooperate with each other, but can do so with precise behavioral coordination never before demonstrated in nonhuman animals.

To find out, whether the animals actually understand that they need their partner, and actively coordinate with them, researchers at the University of Western Australia (UWA) and the United States-based Dolphin Research Center created a task in which pairs of dolphins had to swim across a lagoon and each press their own underwater button simultaneously (within a one-second time window) – whether sent together or with a delay between partners of up to 20 seconds.

The results of the study, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, showed that the dolphins not only waited for their partner, but also succeeded at the task with extreme precision, with the time between button presses in the latter trials averaging just 370 milliseconds.

This study suggests that bottlenose dolphins understand how cooperation works. “The behavioral simultaneous action we observe in wild dolphins can be remarkably precise, for example, the simultaneous action we observe in the coordinated displays of allied male dolphins is thought to actively promote cooperation,” Dr. King says. The next step will be to investigate whether dolphins use vocal signals to coordinate behavior during cooperative situations.

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Read the paper on the Proceedings of the Royal Society B website