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Tradition makes the man seen as the summit of creation and as the only intelligent creature on the planet and in some cases even of the universe. It also leads to measure the intelligence of other beings in comparison with theirs, and to forget that there are other animals with many features that are usually considered to be human: for example, cetaceans live in groups that maintain complex relationships and narrow, they talk to each other and have regional dialects; the gorillas have friends for life, and held large annual meetings.

In fact, the more studying the behavior of primates and cetaceans, the more it is surprising to find traits that we often associate to our essential nature. This week, a study published in “Current Biology” has revealed that dolphins can learn skills of their peers , and not only from their mothers. In particular, it is as well as discover how to use empty shells to capture fish.

“Our study shows that the foraging behaviour, where dolphins trap fish in shells empty, is spread through social learning between colleagues very close,” he said in a press release Sonja Wild , first author of the study and scientist from the University of Leeds (Uk). “This is surprising, because the dolphins and other toothed whales tend to follow the strategy to imitate the mothers to learn how to forage”.

A dolphin emerging with a shell to drain the water and catch the fish that he chased to be put in the shell – Sonja Wild – Dolphin Innovation Project

What exactly is it that dolphins learn from their colleagues? Basically they follow their prey, usually fish, to empty shells, left in the background. When the fish is put inside, the dolphins placed his snout and go with them up to the surface, to be emptied of water and that the fish falls into his mouth.

In fact, this curious behavior is the second known example of tool use by dolphins, apart from the use of marine sponges in a manner similar to the shells.

These discoveries were achieved between 2007 and 2018, when a group of scientists was exploring Shark Bay, in Australia. In total, they identified more than 1,000 dolphins of the Indo-Pacific (Tursiops aduncus) and recorded 5.300 encuntros with them. In addition, they were able to observe the behavior of foraging with shells on 42 occasions.

The importance of learning from peers

through social network analysis, relations of genetic and environmental factors , the researchers found that this behavior extends within generations, not between generations: that is to say, not learned mothers, but of the “colleagues”.

This highlights the similarities between cetaceans –the group that includes dolphins, whales and porpoises– and the great apes to to transmit cultural behavior,” said Michael Krützen, co-author of the work and researcher at the University of Zurich (Switzerland), in which he began these investigations.

why is this happening, taking into account the huge differences between the environments and the evolution of both animals? “There are strong similarities between the two,” he continued Krützen. “Both are mammals long-lived, with large brains and with a great capacity to innovate and to transmit culturally to their behaviors.”

Sonja Wild has nuanced that not all the dolphins are turning with the same frequency of this behavior, so we suspect that it is possible that “some of the dolphins have mastered their skill more than others.”

finally, the researcher has said that these investigations are relevant to understand how the dolphins are able to adapt their behavior to changing environments. “Learn from others allows a rapid expansion of behaviors in populations, so it has been suggested that species with these capabilities are more likely to sobreviviir”.