Wild dolphins walking on their tails in remarkable example of animal intelligence

October 22, 2010 | by | 0 Comments

These amazing photographs show playful wild dolphins teaching each other how to walk on their tails – just for FUN.

Scientists discovered five of the mammals tail-walking in the wild – a skill made famous by the blue bottlenose dolphin in the 1960s TV show ‘Flipper’.

Experts claim that tail-walking has no useful function in dolphin society and they simply perform purely for fun.

It is thought a former captive theme park dolphin called Billie – released off the south coast of Australia in 1988 – started the tail-walking trend.

Billie was taught the skill while in captivity at the Marineland Theme Park and passed it onto other dolphins in the wild on her release.

Boffins have witnessed five wild dolphins in Adelaide’s Port River, south west Australia, exhibited the skill perfectly – but dozens more show signs of practicing how to ‘stand’ on their tails in the water.

The study was carried out by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) in Australia which claims the obvious learning behaviour proves dolphins are as sophisticated as apes.

The WDCS hopes the evidence will provide dolphins more protection in the wild and eventually see them banned from performing in theme parks.

Dr Mike Bossley, who led the study, said: ”Culture in the wider sense of the term, defined as ‘learned behaviour characteristic of a community’, is now frequently on show in the Port River.

”This cultural behaviour is of great significance for conservation.

”Cultural behaviours in animals have been identified in several species, particularly chimpanzees.

”However, most if not all the cultural behaviours described to-date have been of a utilitarian nature, mainly to do with obtaining food.

”A well know chimpanzee example is using a twig to extract termites from a nest in the Gombe Stream reserve.

”The only dolphin example seen up to now is in Shark Bay, west Australia, where a small group of dolphins habitually carry a sponge on the end of their jaw while fishing to protect them from fish spines.

”As far as we are aware, tail walking has no practical function and is performed just for fun – akin to human dancing or gymnastics.

”As such, it represents an internationally important example of the behavioural similarities between humans and dolphins.”

Dr Bossley studied a wild dolphin called Wave two years ago which – either directly inspired by Billie or one of her ‘pupils’ – regularly tail-walked in front of other dolphins.

Wave’s calf Tallula has now mastered the skill alongside dolphin Bianca who taught her calf Hope and another calf Bubbles how to tail walk.

Dr Bossley said the discovery of a ‘culture’ in dolphins could lead to new protections for the animal preventing them from being kept in captivity.

He said: ”The demonstration of culture in non human animals has important ramifications for conservation.

”The discovery of cultural behaviours in some species will require a whole new approach to conservation so that the cultures of specific communities become recognised as worthy of protection.

”Adelaide’s dolphins are not performing operas, nor composing symphonies as far as we know.

”But tail walking in dolphins adds more evidence to the contention that dolphins are so similar to humans that they are worthy of a special ethical
status: that of ‘non human persons’.”

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