Friday, January 21, 2011

Blindfolded dolphins can detect and imitate each other's behaviour using 'sixth sense'


The big experiment: Tanner, a dolphin at the research center in the Florida Keys, was fitted with special eyecups to block his vision

A new study reports a blindfolded dolphin can detect and imitate the fin splashes, swimming movements and other behaviour of fellow dolphins even when it can't see them.

Dr. Kelly Jaakkola at the non-profit Dolphin Research Center in the Florida Keys says the study involved a male bottlenose dolphin named Tanner who was blindfolded with opaque latex goggles and able to detect the movements of its companions.

Jaakkola says it's still unclear if dolphins use sonar or naturally emitted sounds to detect fellow dolphins, a form of navigation called echolocation. But she says the research is pursuing new insights about dolphin intelligence.

Highly intelligent: Tanner imitated the behaviour of fellow dolphin Kibby despite his impaired vision

The study, called Blindfolded Imitation in a Bottlenose Dolphin has been published in the International Journal of Comparative Psychology.

As part of the experiment, in a lagoon in the Florida Keys, trainer Emily Guarino blindfolded a male dolphin named Tanner with special latex goggles.

At a command, another trainer told his dolphin companion Kibby to say 'hello' by flapping his fins on the water, splashing noisily in the enclosed lagoon at the Dolphin Research Center, which houses 22 dolphins and is one of the leaders in dolphin cognitive studies.

When asked to imitate Kibby, Tanner was within seconds splashing back a greeting - a seemingly extraordinary feat given the blindfolded dolphin appeared to only be using sound to perceive and imitate the actions of his fellow dolphin.

The research suggests dolphins are master imitators that somehow can 'see' their environment despite blindfolds. But exactly how such a dolphin can mimic another's action is a matter of ongoing scientific study.

As for dolphins, researchers say they are intent on learning much more about their nature. For one, they want to know if dolphins imitate each other naturally to learn something new. Researchers also say they want to further test whether dolphins can imitate a novel behaviour in the playful, thought-provoking animals.

source: dailymail

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