Dolphin Cooperation

Posted on: August 19, 2015

Did you know that bottlenose dolphins work together to forage, help sick or injured conspecifics, secure a mate, as well as play? While researchers have observed these cooperative (i.e., working together to achieve a common goal: Boesch & Boesch, 1989) behaviors in the wild, it is difficult to know what role characteristics such as age, sex, relationship, and prior experiences have on the willingness and ability of dolphins to cooperate in these scenarios. To test this cognitive skill, Dolphins Plus provided a novel cooperative device to their populations of bottlenose dolphins and observed their behavior (Kuczaj, Winship, & Eskelinen, 2015). We found that two adult males were the most likely to cooperate, even sharing the fish that was released after it was opened! They also synchronously surfaced and dove together while carrying the device, which researchers view as a sign of affiliative behavior and close relationships (Connor, Smolker, & Bejder, 2006). While the other animals were able to open the devices alone, cooperative behavior was observed between the two male dolphins.  

This research was recently published in the scientific journal Animal Cognition (2015), and was featured in the May 2015 issues of National Geographic and National Geographic Kids, as well as at:

Watch Video

Works Cited

Boesch, C., & Boesch H. (1989). Hunting Behavior of Wild Chimpanzees in the Taï National Park. American Journal of Physical Anthropology78, 547–573.

Connor, R. C, Smolker, R., & Bejder, L. (2006). Synchrony, social behavior, and alliance affiliation in Indian Ocean bottlenose dolphins, Tursiops aduncusAnimal Behaviour, 72(6), 1371–1378.

Kuczaj, S. A., Winship, K. A., & Eskelinen H. C. (2015). Can bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) cooperate when solving a novel task? Animal Cognition18(2), 543–550.


Photos courtesy of Brian Skerry and National Geographic May 2015 Issue