Dolphins Training Other Dolphins

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I decided to look up some cool things animals have been trained to do. In doing so I discovered this article that talks about how one dolphin taught other dolphins tricks in the wild. The one dolphin was in captivating for a while and trainers taught it how to perform various stunts. The dolphin was then released back into the wild where now it teachers other dolphins these same tricks. I thought that was very cool that not only can humans train dolphins to do certain tricks, but dolphins can actually teach one another.
When talking about training we usually offer some sort of reward to the animal to make it learn what we want it to. In other words respond in the way we train it to. That leads me to question how the wild dolphins learn how to do the tricks. What reward do they get to encourage them to try the trick again? Without that reward and response pattern they must still learn how to repeat the tricks that the one dolphin is in a way "teaching" them. The article talks about the popular social group idea, that when the other dolphins see such behavior they want to act that way as well. That is my guess on how they learn without the rewards. To make it simple, they see the one dolphin doing tricks and they want to be able to do them too. Overall I thought it was an interesting story.


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I think that this dolphin training is largely an adaptive ability to learn to survive. I can agree that the ability to do tricks is not necessary for survival, but there are many other things that are. These might include group gestures that warn other dolphins to swim to safety. In order for this plan to work, the other dolphins have to be able to copy the warning gesture so that all of the dolphins can send warnings in times of danger. Maybe the dolphins are just having fun and copying each other but I think that it has more to do with the survival instinct.

The end of this blog brings up the point that I was very curious about while reading the first half of this blog. The first dolphin obviously had a reward when it was being taught these tricks but what about the other animals. I feel as if this disproves operant conditioning in a way and really shows how not every action of learning has to deal with rewards. These dolphins are clearly not getting physical rewards for their tricks yet they still do them. This is really interesting to me. Maybe it's just an example of use of the mirror neuron?

Whenever I think about animals teaching other animals things that are not natural to their species, my Darwinist side kicks in. Last semester, I took a class called "human evolution" and learned all about how some species survive by learning how to become accustomed to a certain environment they're not used to and how after a while the part of the species that adapted to the environment survives and becomes more reproductively successful. This dolphin story intrigues me because they learn this behavior even though there are no rewards (rewards such as surviving as a species) and it's not an instinctive behavior they have to do in order to become stronger. It seems to me it's only a socializing behavior, which makes them closer to humans. Animals learning from other animals without any particular reason, just learning because they want to, is very astonishing.

I find this subject very interesting because of the fact that dolphins are teaching other dolphins. Will the wild dolphins continue to perform the tricks taught to them in the future or will there be an extinction event. Also what influences the dolphins to perform the tricks, like mentioned in the blog and previous comments there is no reward so is it mere mimicry or are they actually learning. I wonder is it actually a stunt/trick if humans cannot coerce the dolphins to do what the other dolphin taught them. I don't know if I am making any sense, but I think the whole process is something to consider and what the ramifications might be for our understanding of the animal world.

Another way that might get the wild dolphins to want to do the new tricks is based on the feeling they get. Maybe they get some sort of an adrenaline rush when they preform certain tricks. They might even get a good feeling on their bodies when they do these tricks too. The reward could be the feelings that come after the stimulus or it could be the hormones that are released during and after the stimulus. But yes this is very interesting. I would be funny to see, while on a cruise ship, a bunch of dolphins jumping out of the water doing flips.

I also find this topic very interesting because i don't think there's many animals that can teach their same species things. Although doing tricks isn't something that dolphins need to know, but In the long run it could lead to the second dolphin to just watch what the training dolphin does, so they would do exactly what they do and then become more trained for things that would be more useful.

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This page contains a single entry by pete8983 published on February 22, 2012 12:45 PM.

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