Dolphins Using Tools to Hunt

Posted on December 10, 2008  Comments (6)

photo of a dolphin with a sponge it uses to huntPhotograph of dolphin with a sponge it uses to hunt, courtesy of Ewa Krzyszczyk, PLoS, high resolution.

Cool open access research from PLoS One, Why Do Dolphins Carry Sponges?

Tool use is rare in wild animals, but of widespread interest because of its relationship to animal cognition, social learning and culture. Despite such attention, quantifying the costs and benefits of tool use has been difficult, largely because if tool use occurs, all population members typically exhibit the behavior. In Shark Bay, Australia, only a subset of the bottlenose dolphin population uses marine sponges as tools, providing an opportunity to assess both proximate and ultimate costs and benefits and document patterns of transmission.

We compared sponge-carrying (sponger) females to non-sponge-carrying (non-sponger) females and show that spongers were more solitary, spent more time in deep water channel habitats, dived for longer durations, and devoted more time to foraging than non-spongers; and, even with these potential proximate costs, calving success of sponger females was not significantly different from non-spongers. We also show a clear female-bias in the ontogeny of sponging. With a solitary lifestyle, specialization, and high foraging demands, spongers used tools more than any non-human animal. We suggest that the ecological, social, and developmental mechanisms involved likely (1) help explain the high intrapopulation variation in female behaviour, (2) indicate tradeoffs (e.g., time allocation) between ecological and social factors and, (3) constrain the spread of this innovation to primarily vertical transmission.

The dolphins use the sponge to push along the ocean floor and disturb fish, that are hidden. Once the fish start swimming away the dolphin abandons the sponge and catches and eats the fish. Then the dolphin goes back and gets the sponge and continues.

Related: Do Dolphins Sleep?Orangutan Attempts to Hunt Fish with SpearDolphin Rescues Beached WhalesSavanna Chimpanzees Hunt with ToolsChimps Used Stone “Hammers”open access papers

6 Responses to “Dolphins Using Tools to Hunt”

  1. Neil
    December 12th, 2008 @ 6:24 am

    Cool. I’d only been familiar with the other more commonly known animals who use tools. Didn’t know dolphins did as well. Learned something new today. 🙂

  2. Andre Koen
    December 17th, 2008 @ 1:30 pm

    Nice piece of information.

    Exactly it is already proved that Dolphins are very intelligent living beings. They also teach their children how to use sponges; it’s like passing their specialized knowledge to their coming generations.

  3. Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog » Friday Fun: Bird Using Bait to Fish
    May 15th, 2009 @ 10:46 am

    This individual learned how to bait the fish with bread and improve the fishing results. It also passed on that method to other birds that learned how to use the bait method themselves…

  4. Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog » Dolphin Delivers Deviously for Rewards
    November 2nd, 2009 @ 11:46 pm

    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. 😛

  5. Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog » Unique Dolphin Strategy for Hunting Fish
    January 22nd, 2010 @ 12:14 pm

    […] Dolphins Using Tools to Hunt – Do Dolphins Sleep? – Dolphin Delivers Deviously for Rewards – Bird Using Bait […]

  6. Photo of Fish Using a Rock to Open a Clam » Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog
    August 20th, 2011 @ 11:05 am

    The more we learn about animals the more tool use we find. It is continually interesting to see the wide variety of behavior documented…

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