Do tool-using bottlenose dolphins exhibit social learning?

Lisa Singh
Georgetown University

This talk presents a study investigating cultural behaviour in the Shark Bay bottlenose dolphin population. Specifically, I will discuss whether Shark Bay bottlenose dolphins that use marine sponges as hunting tools (spongers) are culturally distinct from other dolphins in the population based on the criteria that sponging is both socially learned and distinguishes between groups. This study uses social network analysis to determine social preferences among 36 spongers and 69 non-spongers sampled over a 22-year period while controlling for location, sex and matrilineal relatedness. Homophily based on tool-using status was evident in every analysis, although maternal kinship, sex and location also contributed to social preference. Female spongers were more cliquish and preferentially associated with other spongers over non-spongers. Like humans who preferentially associate with others who share their subculture, tool-using dolphins prefer others like themselves, strongly suggesting that sponge tool-use is a cultural behaviour.

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