Dolphin Delivers Deviously for Rewards

Posted on November 2, 2009  Comments (3)

Deep thinkers

At the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Mississippi, Kelly the dolphin has built up quite a reputation. All the dolphins at the institute are trained to hold onto any litter that falls into their pools until they see a trainer, when they can trade the litter for fish. In this way, the dolphins help to keep their pools clean.

Kelly has taken this task one step further. When people drop paper into the water she hides it under a rock at the bottom of the pool. The next time a trainer passes, she goes down to the rock and tears off a piece of paper to give to the trainer. After a fish reward, she goes back down, tears off another piece of paper, gets another fish, and so on. This behaviour is interesting because it shows that Kelly has a sense of the future and delays gratification. She has realised that a big piece of paper gets the same reward as a small piece and so delivers only small pieces to keep the extra food coming. She has, in effect, trained the humans.

Her cunning has not stopped there. One day, when a gull flew into her pool, she grabbed it, waited for the trainers and then gave it to them. It was a large bird and so the trainers gave her lots of fish. This seemed to give Kelly a new idea. The next time she was fed, instead of eating the last fish, she took it to the bottom of the pool and hid it under the rock where she had been hiding the paper. When no trainers were present, she brought the fish to the surface and used it to lure the gulls, which she would catch to get even more fish. After mastering this lucrative strategy, she taught her calf, who taught other calves, and so gull-baiting has become a hot game among the dolphins…

Too bad for the poor gulls but this is pretty cool. Plus it serves gulls right, one stole my breakfast a few years ago when I was down in Florida.

Related: Dolphins Using Tools to HuntFriday Fun: Dolphins Play with Air Bubble RingsBird Using Bait to FishDolphin Rescues Beached WhalesWhen Performance-related Pay Backfires

3 Responses to “Dolphin Delivers Deviously for Rewards”

  1. Max Rodriguez
    November 5th, 2009 @ 6:32 pm

    ha! wow, that’s amazing. If I could only get my dog to do the laundry :p

  2. Anonymous
    December 5th, 2009 @ 6:44 pm

    when it comes to dolphins…..greenpeace does the deal…in fact they caught me at outdoor flea market…asking me to join them in there quest to keep dolphins from being treated badly in pools abused as lab rats so to speak…wish i would have joined in…considering that our economy is going to hell anyway!!but stories like the one i read…..almost made me cry…..my little dog does the same thing!!!kid you not..guess all forms of animals are the same…

  3. Capuchin Monkeys Don’t Like Being Paid Less » Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog
    June 26th, 2013 @ 6:47 am

    Quite a fun video. Frans de Waal shows us a task he gave Capuchin monkeys to see if they responded to a sense of fairness…

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