Cetacean Culture

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Why Do Dolphins Carry Sponges?
http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/132543.php
10 Dec 2008

While rare in wild animals, tool use is of widespread interest to researchers because of its relationship to animal cognition, social learning and culture. Measuring the costs and benefits of tool use has been difficult, largely because if tool use occurs, all population members typically exhibit the behavior. However, a new study that examines a subset of Western Australia's Indian Ocean bottlenose dolphin population and their use of marine sponges as tools, provides a unique opportunity to assess costs and benefits of tool use and document patterns of transmission from mother to calf.

Led by Georgetown University's Janet Mann, the researchers are the first to examine the relationship between tool use and fitness in wild animals. Their findings are published in the December 10 edition of the journal PLoS ONE.

"It turns out the brainiacs of the marine world can also be tool-using workaholics, spending more time hunting with tools than any non-human animal," says Mann, professor of biology and psychology, who has been studying the Shark Bay dolphin population for more than 21 years. "This is the first and only clear case of tool-use in a wild dolphin or whale."

Mann, who started systematic data collection on the sponging behavior in these dolphins in 1989, found that 41 dolphins, in a population of thousands, use marine sponges on their beaks as a foraging tool. These dolphins use sponges to find hidden prey in the sandy sea floor and spend more time using their sponge-tool than any non-human tool user documented to date. Spongers are also 'workaholics' spending more time hunting, diving, and diving for longer time periods, than other females in the population. They also tend to be solitary.

Comparing sponge-carrying (sponger) females to non-sponge-carrying (non-sponger) females, the researchers observed 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. They also found that even with these potential immediate costs, such as less time socializing, calving success of sponger females was not significantly different from non-spongers.

"Despite these costs, they are successful at calving, so their workaholic tendencies pay off," says Mann.

Mann and her co-authors also report a clear female-bias in the development of sponging. Almost all the spongers are females and they transmit this behavior to their offspring.

"While a few males carry sponges, they seem to be slow learners in this regard," notes Mann. Her team found that all female calves started sponging before they were weaned, whereas male calves rarely used sponges, and if they did, it was after weaning.

The authors suggest that while daughters show a strong tendency to adopt the social and foraging behaviors of their mothers, sons appear to be less interested in maternal behavior and are more concerned with finding other male associates. Also, if the mother tends to be solitary, as is the case with spongers, then sons tend to socialize during brief separations from their mothers while daughters will go off and hunt on their own like their mothers.

"We believe these early sex differences foreshadow the long-term reproductive interests of males and females, with males being focused on alliance formation, necessary for successful mating, and females focused on foraging skills, necessary to meet the demands of three to eight years of nursing each calf," says Mann.

Although sponging was discovered in the mid-1980s, the behavior is difficult to observe because spongers hunt for fish primarily in deep channels (8-13 meters). Mann has observed the behavior when water clarity was exceptional, leaving no doubt that the sponge is used to help search for prey that burrow in sand. Although sponging is the predominant foraging technique used in these channels, one family of spongers (grandmother, mother and two daughters) use another deep water area, suggesting that the behavior is not restricted to channels only, and traditional use of other areas can emerge.

While Mann continues to seek answers to new questions in her research on animal behavior, she also works with her students on their own research questions, both on the Shark Bay project and in the classroom. Her students are examining the long-term development and transmission of foraging behavior, social networks, and factors related to female reproductive success. Mann teaches Animal Behavior, Monkeys, Apes and Human Evolution and Behavior at Georgetown. She also takes up to four students with her to Australia each summer, giving them the opportunity to learn the latest field research techniques.

Additional researchers on Mann's team were from Florida International University, Metropolitan State College of Denver and University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth.

Citation
Why Do Dolphins Carry Sponges?
Mann J, Sargeant BL, Watson-Capps JJ, Gibson QA, Heithaus MR, et al. (2008)
PLoS ONE 3(12): e3868. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0003868
 

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Filleting with a flipper, the dolphin calamari chefs of the deep
By Daily Mail Reporter
Last updated at 11:05 PM on 30th January 2009

We already knew that dolphins were intelligent - and now we know that they are excellent chefs as well.

A female bottlenose dolphin has been observed in the wild using an amazingly complex method to catch and prepare cuttlefish.

She first herded the fish out of weeds and on to a sandy patch of sea floor.

Then she pinned it down with her snout, before whipping around and killing it with a deft blow of her tail.

Next she tossed it around in the water to flush out the foultasting ink, and then finally scraped it on the sand to strip out the inedible bone.

After all this, she was left with a tasty, tender mouthful.

The team of scientists from Australia and Britain, who studied the dolphin in the Spencer Gulf in South Australia, were amazed at her precise and elaborate method.

'This is a sign of how well their brains are developed,' said study co-author Dr Mark Norman, curator of molluscs at the Museum of Victoria.

'It's a pretty clever way to get pure calamari without all the horrible bits.'

They saw the dolphin going through the same process in 2003 and 2007, so are convinced it was her usual system, not a one-off effort, according to the report in the journal PLoS One.

Dr Norman and his colleague Tom Tregenza from the University of Exeter, believe that 'some or all of this behavioural sequence' would be performed by other dolphins as well.

It is not the first time that the species has astonished researchers - a 2005 study showed that mother dolphins were teaching their daughters how to break off sea-sponges to fit over their snouts, to protect them as they probed the sea floor for food.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/ ... -deep.html
 

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Dolphin stays for three days with mate wounded in shark attack - before escorting it to humans for help
By Richard Shears
Last updated at 8:57 AM on 18th February 2009

A dolphin badly injured in a shark attack has been escorted by a mate into the care of human hands.
Nari sustained a hideous wound across his head and back, and when he went missing, wildlife experts feared he had died.
The 12-year-old dolphin failed to turn up for his ritual feeding off the coast of Queensland - but so did his older companion Echo.
But after three days the pair turned up with the rest of the group.

Mr Trevor Long, a dolphin expert from Sea World on the Gold Coast, said: 'We didn't see Nari again until the third day, when he turned up with Echo at his side.

'Dolphins are highly social animals and they have an extremely strong bond. There is no reason to think other than that Echo stayed with Nari for a few days, waiting until Nari was well enough to make it back to the feeding area.
'The fact that Echo failed to show up when the injured Nari was also absent suggests they remained together further out to sea for a few days.'

It has now also emerged that Echo's sympathy for Nari may stem from an incident in 1996 when Echo was himself attacked by a shark.

What has thrilled wildlife experts even more is the trust that Nari has appeared to put in the humans who were able to lift him without a struggle into a boat and take him to the mainland to be treated by vets.
'It was a pretty bumpy ride back to the shore, but Nari remained calm all the way,' said Mr Long. 'It was as if he was putting his trust in us.
'We were very concerned about him when he failed to turn up last week but he's in good hands now.
'The injury is quite severe - the bite went right through the skin, flesh and blubber down to the muscle and Nari's pretty sore.

'We're going to cut out the large piece of flesh that has been ripped by the shark and treat him in a special quarantine pool at Sea World.
'Then it will be a case of the wound healing from the inside out.
We're got high hopes he'll recover and then we'll release him back into the wild where we're sure his friend Echo will be waiting for him.'
The pod of 13 wild dolphins come for a nightly hand-feeding ritual by wildlife officers and tourists who greet them each evening on the coast of Moreton Island, near Brisbane.
Nari's terrible injury was first noticed on Friday when he showed up for the feed.

Wildlife officials who were with tourists tossing small fish to them were horrified to see the wound, which bore all the marks of a ferocious shark attack.
It is unclear what species of shark was responsible but the nature of the wound suggested that after taking an initial bite into Nari's head, the shark then gnawed at the wound to try and tear off the flesh.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldne ... -help.html

(With pics)
 

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This is more about evolution than culture but I reckon it belongs here.



Getting A Leg Up On Whale And Dolphin Evolution: New Comprehensive Analysis Sheds Light On The Origin Of Cetaceans
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/20 ... 185533.htm

The Eocene "walking whale"(Ambulocetus natans) is a close relative to the Cetacean. (Credit: Carl Buell)ScienceDaily (Sep. 25, 2009) — When the ancestors of living cetaceans—whales, dolphins and porpoises—first dipped their toes into water, a series of evolutionary changes were sparked that ultimately nestled these swimming mammals into the larger hoofed animal group. But what happened first, a change from a plant-based diet to a carnivorous diet, or the loss of their ability to walk?

A new paper published this week in PLoS ONE resolves this debate using a massive data set of the morphology, behavior, and genetics of living and fossil relatives. Cetacean ancestors probably moved into water before changing their diet (and their teeth) to include carnivory; Indohyus, a 48-million year-old semi-aquatic herbivore, and hippos fall closest to cetaceans when the evolutionary relationships of the larger group are reconstructed.

"If you only had living taxa to figure out relationships within this group of animals, you would miss a large amount of diversity and part of the picture of what is going on," says Michelle Spaulding, lead author of the study and a graduate student affiliated with the American Museum of Natural History. "Indohyus is interesting because this fossil combines an herbivore's dentition with adaptations such as ear bones that are adapted for hearing under water and are traditionally associated with whales only."

The origin of whales, dolphins, and porpoises—with their highly modified legs and lack of hair—has long been a quandary for mammalogists. About 60 years ago, researchers first suggested that cetaceans were related to plant-eating ungulates, specifically to even-toed, artiodactyl mammals like sheep, antelope and pigs. In other words, carnivorous killer whales and fish-eating dolphins were argued to fit close to the herbivorous hoofed animal group. More recent genetic research found that among artiodactyls, hippos are the cetaceans' closest living relatives.

Because no one would ever link hippos and whales based on their appearance, fossil evidence became an important way to determine the precise evolutionary steps that cetacean ancestors took. Traditionally, the origin of whales was linked to the mesonychids, an extinct group of carnivores that had singly-hoofed toes. The recent discovery of Indohyus, a clearly water-adapted herbivore, complicates this picture (as new fossils often do) because of ear bones similar to those of modern cetaceans, which are theorized to help the animal have heard better while under the water.

To tease apart different potential evolutionary histories (whether carnivory or water adaptations occurred first; the mesonychid or Indohyus relatedness ideas), Spaulding and colleagues mapped the evolutionary relationships among more than 80 living and fossil taxa (in other words, species and/or genera). These taxa were scored for 661 morphological and behavioral characters (such as presence of hair or the shape of and ankle bone). Forty-nine new DNA sequences from five nuclear genes were also added to the mix of more than 47,000 characters; both morphological and genetic data build on previous analyses by authors Maureen O'Leary of Stony Brook University and John Gatesy of University of California at Riverside. In addition, Indohyus, carnivores (dogs and cats), and an archaic group of meat-eating mammals called creodonts were included.

The team found that the least complex evolutionary tree places Indohyus and similar fossils close to whales, while mesonychids are more distantly related. Hippos remain the closest living relatives. These results suggest that cetacean ancestors transitioned to water before becoming carnivorous but that the meat-eating diet developed while these ancestors could still walk on land.

"How do you put flesh and movement onto a fossil?" asks author O'Leary. "The earliest stem whale probably ate prey in water while still being able to walk on land. Indohyus has some adaptations for hearing under water but also ate plants, while Ambulocetus (a walking whale that lived about 50 million years ago) seems to have been carnivorous."

"There is deep conflict in the evolutionary tree," says Spaulding. "The backbone of the tree is robust and stable, but you have these fairly large clades that move around relative to this backbone(Indohyus and mesonychids) We need to really re-examine characters carefully and see what suite of traits are the truly derived in different taxa to fully resolve this tree."

This research was funded by separate National Science Foundation grants to all three authors.
 

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Vid at link.

Massive killer whale pod sighted
http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_ne ... 308265.stm
By Jody Bourton
Earth News reporter


A mackerel-loving megapod of orca

A massive pod of up to 50 killer whales has been filmed for the first time off the coast of Scotland by a BBC crew.

Gordon Buchanan, presenter of BBC Autumnwatch, filmed the group from a fishing boat in the North Sea.

The killer whales are filmed approaching the fishing boat and feeding on mackerel that escape the fishing nets.

The tenacious behaviour reveals an unlikely alliance between fishermen and predators of fish.

Killer whales (Orcinus orca), otherwise called orcas, live in family groups called pods and occur in British waters.

As the largest member of the dolphin family, killer whales are known for their intelligence and range of hunting behaviours.

The pod of killer whales caught on camera belong to a family group that has developed a particular hunting strategy; following mackerel fishermen and feeding on fish that escape their nets.

The fishermen are really fond of the killer whales

Andy Foote
University of Aberdeen
As the nets are brought to the surface and into the boat, the killer whales approach and come alongside, giving fishermen and the BBC Autumnwatch team a grandstand view of the pod in action.

The killer whales pick of any escaping mackerel and also feed off scraps as the nets are later lowered back into the water to be washed clean.

Fisherman's friend

Scientists first documented this behaviour in the 1980s and fishermen in Scotland have seen the behaviour develop since.

"They are pretty quick to cotton on, and it's something they are doing all around the world where there is a big fishery," says Mr Andy Foote of the University of Aberdeen, a marine scientist advising the BBC Autumnwatch team.

"But what's great about this one, is they aren't viewed as a pest, they are just going after mackerel that are stuck in the nets or escaping and they don't take any of the fishermen's catch," he says.

"They don't damage the nets or get stuck in the nets, there is a benefit for both parties and the fishermen are really fond of the killer whales."

Whale family

Pods of killer whales can include up to 200 individuals, due to the abundance of food provided by the fishing boats.


Tenacious predator
The mackerel-loving killer whales are thought to be a distinct family, unrelated to killer whales found in Shetland or others that hunt herring off Iceland.

The group follows the migration of mackerel from the Norwegian sea, past Shetland and down the west coast of Ireland and Britain possibly as far as the Portuguese coast.

The killer whales that feed on mackerel have been found to have very worn down teeth as a result of their feeding behaviour.

Scientists believe it is a result of how they suck up the fish one at a time. The suction, along with the abrasive nature of salt water, wears their teeth down.

Similarly worn teeth are also seen in other suction feeders such as sperm whales.

Gordon Buchanan presenter and cameraman on the BBC series Autumnwatch has been living aboard the working fishing boat with one other BBC colleague in an effort to capture the killer whales on film.

In his blog he tells how he was lucky to encounter the massive pod.

The Killer whales can be seen on the BBC series Autumnwatch , which is broadcast at 2100 BST on BBC Two on Friday 16 October.
 

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Dangling stockings reveal whales' sex drive
http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn1 ... drive.html
12:30 28 October 2009
by Shanta Barley

Using women's stockings to test a whale's sex drive: that's a joke, surely? In fact, the hosiery is key to a new method for measuring a whale's sex hormones without harming it – the first such method to be discovered.

For the first time, testosterone and progesterone – two key hormones that signal whether whales are pregnant, lactating or in the mood to mate – have been extracted from whales' lung mucus, captured in nylon stockings dangled from a pole over their blowholes as they surface to breathe.

This could allow non-invasive pregnancy tests on whales in the wild. Claims sometimes made for Japanese "scientific whaling" programmes that killing whales helps assess pregnancy rates would then become even more questionable.

To investigate whether it was possible to collect sex hormones from whales non-invasively, Carolyn Hogg of the Evolution and Ecology Research Centre at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, and her colleagues collected "blow" samples from 35 humpback whales off Queensland, Australia, and 18 North Atlantic right whales in the Bay of Fundy on the border of Canada and the US. They noted the whales' gender by sight, where possible. Back at the lab, liquid chromatography mass spectrometry was used to measure the blow's testosterone and progesterone content.

Sex in the mix
They found that whale blow – previously assumed to be no more than a mix of air and water – also contains measurable levels of sex hormones. "Hormones in the whale's blood are probably diffusing across the lung wall, which is rich in blood vessels, into the mucous lining on the other side," says Patrick Miller, a co-author based at the University of St Andrews, UK.

To their surprise, the team discovered that female humpback whales returning to polar waters from the tropics, where they are thought to breed and give birth, produce the "breeding" hormone progesterone.

"It was surprising to find that these whales were sexually receptive, given that they had calves with them and were departing from their breeding grounds," says Miller. "It raises a serious question over how much we know about these animals."

The team hope that the technique will also reveal why the endangered North Atlantic right whale is failing to breed.

"This is an exciting and promising technique which potentially adds one more method to the toolbox of those studying living whales," says Phillip Clapham at the National Marine Mammal Laboratory in Seattle, Washington, "and it underscores yet again that, contrary to the claims of Japan and some others, you don't need to kill whales to get important information about them for management and conservation."

Journal reference: Marine Mammal Science, DOI: 10.1111/j.1748-7692.2008.00277.x
 

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Rare whale gathering sighted
http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_ne ... 340706.stm
By Matt Walker
Editor, Earth News


Rare appearance


A large group of a rarely sighted, mysterious species of whale has been seen off the coast of Antarctica.

Approximately 60 Arnoux's beaked whales were seen and photographed frolicking on the surface in the Gerlache Strait.

Few sightings of this enigmatic species are made in the wild, and even less in waters near to shore.

The sighting, of the largest group ever recorded, is also the first time this species of whale has been seen socialising at the water surface.

Marine biologists have published details of the sighting in the journal Marine Mammal Science.

The whales were very tactile with each other, slapping the water with their tails, surfacing rapidly

Marine biologist Ari Friedlaender
"There was a fair bit of incredulity and excitement throughout the sighting," says Dr Ari Friedlaender of Duke University's Marine Laboratory, based in Beaufort, North Carolina, US.

As a group, beaked whales are among the least understood large animals on the planet.

Around 20 species belong to the family Ziphiidae, with several only having been discovered in the past couple of decades.

Typically, beaked whales are deep divers, and they are the only whales to have tusks, which are teeth that erupt from the lower jaws of the males.

Together with its close relative, the Baird's beaked whale (Berardius bairdii), the Arnoux's beaked whale (Berardius arnuxii) is among the two largest of all beaked whale species.


Member of a superpod
"Arnoux's are quite cryptic, and like most other beaked whales, are thought to have oceanic distributions," says Dr Friedlaender.

"Very little is known about their ecological requirements, or features around which their distribution is based."

The whale is best known from occasional sightings made by survey boats cruising circumpolar waters around Antarctica.

On 5 May this year, a team of Duke University researchers including Dr Friedlaender sighted approximately 60 Arnoux's beaked whales near the entrance to the Schollaert Channel between Brabant and Cuverville Islands, which lie in the Gerlache Strait, Antarctica.

"What made the sighting atypical and noteworthy was the size of the group of animals and their surface activity," says Dr Friedlaender.

"There were over 60 animals spread out linearly and over a few kilometres."

We really know very little about their natural history

Marine biologist Ari Friedlaender
Each whale was dark-slate coloured, around 5-8m long with a small dorsal fin back toward the tail.

"The animals remained at the surface socialising in ways more befitting of dolphins."

"The whales were very tactile with each other, slapping the water with their tails, surfacing rapidly."

The researchers, who were aboard the research vessel ARSV LM Gould surveying humpback whales, approached the beaked whales in an inflatable boat, photographing them and observing their behaviour.

After the bout of socialising, the whales then dived in synchrony, remaining below the surface for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, with five minutes between dives.

On 7 June, the research team made a second sighting of Arnoux's beaked whales in the same region, this time of a group of at least 25 animals.


Preparing to dive
"We really know very little about their natural history," says Dr Friedlaender.

For example, this species of whale has never before been seen socialising at the surface, nor a group this large.

"The Arnoux's were a unique and amazing experience. Hopefully, this brief glimpse will spawn further work to better understand the species, their distribution and behaviour, and how these animals fit into the larger ecology of the southern ocean."

Being sighted in the Gerlache Strait, which contains channels and canyons up to 1,500m deep and is more than 150km from the edge of the continental shelf, suggests the whales may prefer to reside near to shore as much as in the open ocean.
 

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Scientists say dolphins should be treated as 'non-human persons'
Jonathan Leake

Dolphins have been declared the world’s second most intelligent creatures after humans, with scientists suggesting they are so bright that they should be treated as “non-human persons”.

Studies into dolphin behaviour have highlighted how similar their communications are to those of humans and that they are brighter than chimpanzees. These have been backed up by anatomical research showing that dolphin brains have many key features associated with high intelligence.

The researchers argue that their work shows it is morally unacceptable to keep such intelligent animals in amusement parks or to kill them for food or by accident when fishing. Some 300,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises die in this way each year.

“Many dolphin brains are larger than our own and second in mass only to the human brain when corrected for body size,” said Lori Marino, a zoologist at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, who has used magnetic resonance imaging scans to map the brains of dolphin species and compare them with those of primates.

“The neuroanatomy suggests psychological continuity between humans and dolphins and has profound implications for the ethics of human-dolphin interactions,” she added.

Dolphins have long been recognised as among the most intelligent of animals but many researchers had placed them below chimps, which some studies have found can reach the intelligence levels of three-year-old children. Recently, however, a series of behavioural studies has suggested that dolphins, especially species such as the bottlenose, could be the brighter of the two. The studies show how dolphins have distinct personalities, a strong sense of self and can think about the future.

It has also become clear that they are “cultural” animals, meaning that new types of behaviour can quickly be picked up by one dolphin from another.

In one study, Diana Reiss, professor of psychology at Hunter College, City University of New York, showed that bottlenose dolphins could recognise themselves in a mirror and use it to inspect various parts of their bodies, an ability that had been thought limited to humans and great apes.

In another, she found that captive animals also had the ability to learn a rudimentary symbol-based language.

Other research has shown dolphins can solve difficult problems, while those living in the wild co-operate in ways that imply complex social structures and a high level of emotional sophistication.

In one recent case, a dolphin rescued from the wild was taught to tail-walk while recuperating for three weeks in a dolphinarium in Australia.

After she was released, scientists were astonished to see the trick spreading among wild dolphins who had learnt it from the former captive.


There are many similar examples, such as the way dolphins living off Western Australia learnt to hold sponges over their snouts to protect themselves when searching for spiny fish on the ocean floor.

Such observations, along with others showing, for example, how dolphins could co-operate with military precision to round up shoals of fish to eat, have prompted questions about the brain structures that must underlie them.

Size is only one factor. Researchers have found that brain size varies hugely from around 7oz for smaller cetacean species such as the Ganges River dolphin to more than 19lb for sperm whales, whose brains are the largest on the planet. Human brains, by contrast, range from 2lb-4lb, while a chimp’s brain is about 12oz.

When it comes to intelligence, however, brain size is less important than its size relative to the body.

What Marino and her colleagues found was that the cerebral cortex and neocortex of bottlenose dolphins were so large that “the anatomical ratios that assess cognitive capacity place it second only to the human brain”. They also found that the brain cortex of dolphins such as the bottlenose had the same convoluted folds that are strongly linked with human intelligence.

Such folds increase the volume of the cortex and the ability of brain cells to interconnect with each other. “Despite evolving along a different neuroanatomical trajectory to humans, cetacean brains have several features that are correlated with complex intelligence,” Marino said.

Marino and Reiss will present their findings at a conference in San Diego, California, next month, concluding that the new evidence about dolphin intelligence makes it morally repugnant to mistreat them.

Thomas White, professor of ethics at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, who has written a series of academic studies suggesting dolphins should have rights, will speak at the same conference.

“The scientific research . . . suggests that dolphins are ‘non-human persons’ who qualify for moral standing as individuals,” he said.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/s ... 973994.ece
 

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Whales and humans linked by 'helpful grandmothers'
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science_and_ ... 451533.stm

By Victoria Gill
Science reporter, BBC News Orcas (SPL) Orca grandmothers develop close ties to infants in their pods

Scientists have discovered an evolutionary reason why humans and whales both have grandmothers.

As post-menopausal females age, the researchers say, they become increasingly interested and helpful in rearing their "grandchildren".

This could help explain why female great apes and toothed whales (cetaceans) have lifespans that extend long beyond their reproductive years.

They report the findings in the Royal Society journal Proceedings B.
Continue reading the main story

It is specifically among great apes and toothed whales that menopause and post-reproductive helping have evolved

Rufus Johnstone and Michael Cant Evolutionary biologists

The "grandmother hypothesis" was first proposed in the 1950s. It stated that menopause, which stops a female's fertility well before the end of her lifespan, may have evolved to benefit a social group, because grandmothers went on to play such an important a role in caring for offspring that were already born.

Dr Michael Cant, from the University of Exeter in the UK, was one of the authors of this paper.

He explained that he and his colleague, Rufus Johnstone, looked at how humans and whales balanced "the costs and benefits of breeding with the costs and benefits of switching off breeding".

Dr Johnstone, who is an evolutionary biologist based at the University of Cambridge, told BBC News: "It's easy to forget about the cetaceans, but since they're the only other mammal apart from us [where females] have a comparable post-reproductive lifespan, it's important to study them in this context."

Previous studies have suggested that female chimpanzees and gorillas also go through menopause, but the conclusions are controversial.

The two scientists developed a mathematical model to study "kinship dynamics" in killer whales (orcas), short-finned pilot whales and humans.

This revealed that, as post-menopausal females aged, they developed closer ties to infants.

This showed, the scientists said, an "underlying similarity" between whales and great apes that might otherwise have been masked by the big differences in their social structures.

"Our analysis can help explain why, of all long-lived social mammals, it is specifically among great apes and toothed whales that menopause and post-reproductive helping have evolved," the researchers wrote in the paper.

Eric Ward, a scientist from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Washington, has carried out research into how post-reproductive females influence whale populations.

He told BBC News: "The model the authors propose is certainly interesting, and may explain the evolution of menopause in orcas."
 

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Famous New Zealand dolphin Moko 'is dead'

Moko the dolphin Moko was last seen two weeks ago

A New Zealand dolphin who made headlines for his playful - sometimes overly-playful - behaviour with swimmers is believed to have died.

Moko was a familiar sight around the North Island's eastern beaches, swimming among bathers but sometimes blocking them from reaching shore.

Conservationists confirmed the carcass of a bottlenose dolphin was "probably" Moko, and tests are being done.

Moko made headlines in 2008 by rescuing two stranded whales.

He was spotted guiding two pygmy sperm whales who had become trapped between a sandbar and the beach through a narrow channel out to sea.
'Sad loss'

The dolphin carcass was found on an eastern North Island beach on Wednesday - two weeks after Moko was last seen.
Map

"Based on the size, markings and teeth of the carcass, we think that this is Moko," said Jamie Quirk of the Department of Conservation.

He did not speculate on what may have caused the death, but DNA testing is due to be carried to confirm whether it is the famous dolphin.

"This is a sad loss," said Andrew Baucke, area manager of the conservation department.

"The way that Moko interacted with people really inspired public interest and care for dolphins and marine mammals and their environment".

Moko first came to public attention in 2007 after taking up residence at Mahia Beach, south of Gisborne.

He delighted the hundreds of bathers who would take to the sea to swim with him.

However, as the solitary dolphin got older his play sometimes became rougher.

A woman last year spoke of how she had swum out to play with Moko, but when she wanted to return to shore he "just wanted to keep playing" and refused to let her go.

She was found exhausted and extremely cold, clinging to a buoy.

Others reported how Moko would steal surfboards and balls, overturn kayaks and water-skiers.

Scientists had been concerned about Moko's welfare, pointing out that of the 30 "lone" dolphins identified around the world, 14 had already been injured or had died as a result of their interaction with humans.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/world/asia_p ... 550609.stm
 

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Dolphins giving locals a killer whale of a time in Kerry
http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ire ... 12174.html
ANNE LUCEY

Mon, Jul 12, 2010

A SPECIES of dolphin that is often confused with killer whales is turning up in increasing numbers off the coast of Co Kerry and the southwest this summer.

The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) reports a 53 per cent increase in sightings of the pale-coloured and sometimes white Risso’s dolphin, – also known as Grampus griseus – compared to last year.

For the first time their vocalisations have been recorded in Irish waters and their photographs have been taken.

The shy dolphin, rare in inshore waters, has turned up in numbers just metres from the shore along Slea Head and the Blasket Islands, and most recently near Puffin Island in St Finan’s Bay.

As many as 20 have been recorded in one pod.

According to the IWDG, the Risso’s dolphin is poorly understood in most waters within their range, which includes most oceans, except those in polar regions.

“This may in part be due to their shy nature and reluctance to associate with boats,” the group said.

“But in recent weeks, we have noticed a significant increase in sightings of this species from counties Wexford, Cork and Kerry,” it said.

Using rigid inflatable boats, the group has tracked the mammals’ movements and recorded their calls over a number of days in late June.

Up to 20 were spotted on June 20th alone.

Three days earlier, a group of five Risso’s were observed milling just off the cliffs east of Fahan, Slea Head, and over the next hour and a half the animals made their way to Slea Head, and “appeared to be foraging along the rocky seabed close to the shoreline, no more than 20m out”, according to the IWDG.

Reaching up to 4m in length, Risso’s dolphins may be confused with juvenile or female killer whales due to their large dorsal fin and bulbous head shape.

However, the dolphins have no teeth in their upper jaws.

“But if seen in good light with the sun behind you, their very pale-white coloration, combined with the extensive scarring, giving them a unique ‘marbled’ effect, should make them easier to tell apart from other dolphins, such as bottlenose, which are regularly seen in Irish waters.”

The dolphin may be following squid, its favourite food, the IWDG said.

The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group is appealing for reports of sightings, which may be logged on its website, iwdg.ie
 

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Humpback whale spotted off Dublin
http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/bre ... ing21.html
PAMELA NEWENHAM

Fri, Jul 16, 2010

A humpback whale has been spotted in waters off Howth, north Co Dublin.

The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) said it was the first sighting of a humpback in the eastern Irish Sea in almost 20 years.

The mammal, which tends to have a preference for shallow coastal waters according to Pádraig Whooley, sightings co-ordinator with the group, is believed to be sub-adult “or a teenager in human terms”.

The mammal was photographed within metres of the Cardinal marker off Howth Head, between Ireland’s Eye and Howth harbour yesterday afternoon.

The photographer, Sean Pierce of Shearwater Sea kayaking, said: “It stayed around Cardinal Mark off Howth for over two hours. [It] just seemed to be lolling about pushing head into trailing weed and perhaps scratching itself.”

Neil Cramer spotted the humpback off Skerries on Wednesday evening.

"The whale was just astern of our committee boat which was anchored while doing race management for our usual Wednesday night racing in the bay, he said, adding: “The whale remained in close proximity to the boat for about 20 to 30 minutes and came to within touching distance of the boat, and in fact could be felt rubbing off the underside on a few occasions.”

Boats should maintain a 100 metre distance from the whale, keep speeds to less than seven knots and maintain a parallel course with the mammal if travelling with it, the IWDG said.
 

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In the mid 70s I sailed through the Irish sea several times, and we often saw large schools of whales. (But I'm afraid I don't know which species.)
 

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Fishguard rowers rescue trapped harbour dolphins
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-sout ... s-10709617

Fishguard Ladies Long Boat Team with the dolphins By rowing hard at the dolphins and manoeuvring around them the ladies long boat team was able to herd them back out to sea. Photo: Sea Trust

A team of rowers has driven a pod of dolphins out of a harbour after they became trapped.

Experts were worried for the safety of the mammals after they swam into Fishguard disorientated and confused.

The town's women's long boat team came into view and with a few manoeuvres was able to herd them back out to sea.

Cliff Benson of the Sea Trust charity said without their help it was likely the common dolphins - rarely seen inshore - would have become stranded.
Continue reading the main story
“Start Quote

It was exhausting work for the girls but eventually they managed to shepherd the dolphins through the boats and out into deeper water”

End Quote Cliff Benson Sea Trust

Mr Benson said he was called to the harbour on Tuesday due to reports there were a lot of dolphins splashing about.

Although bottlenose dolphins are often seen in the area they turned out to be common ones.

"Quite a crowd had gathered and the dolphins were within a few yards of the shore just muddling about in circles," he explained.

"They seemed a disorientated and confused but I thought they would go back out as the tide turned."

But he said three hours went by and as the sea level dropped he feared they were in danger of becoming stranded.

It was then the Fishguard Ladies Longboat team rowed into view.

"I called them over to help and asked them if they would try and drive the dolphins out to deeper water," added Mr Benson.
Panicked inshore

"Several boats were moored between the dolphins and the safer deep water which seemed to act as a barrier.

"By rowing hard, and manoeuvring between the dolphins and the shore, the ladies would get them moving in the right direction only for the dolphins to turn back."

A Sea Trust volunteer with a motor yacht joined in and between them they herded the animals to safety.

"It was exhausting work for the girls but eventually they managed to shepherd the dolphins through the boats and out into deeper water," said Mr Benson.

"Apparently there had been a lot of mackerel around which would have attracted them inshore," added Mr Benson.

"There were also some witnesses who thought they saw larger more aggressive bottlenose dolphins around, which may have panicked the commons and driven them into the shallow water."
 

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Meet William the Concherer, the dolphin that can fish
http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn1 ... -fish.html
* 15:35 08 September 2010 by Shaoni Bhattacharya

What do kerplunking, beaching, sponging and now conching have in common? They are all terms for the antics of dolphins in pursuit of a meal.

For many years researchers in Western Australia's Shark Bay have noticed Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins hefting and shaking heavy conch shells out of the water for several minutes. What were they up to? Perhaps they were eating the mollusc inside, or using the conch as a toy or in socio-sexual display. Now a series of photographs have captured a dolphin manipulating a fish into its mouth from a conch.

Simon Allen, a behavioural ecologist at Murdoch University in Perth, Australia, was out on a routine survey when one of the dolphins surfaced "with a monstrous shell oriented skywards". It shook the shell up and down, and left and right. After a few minutes it disappeared underwater and re-surfaced with five other dolphins encircling it. "This weird encounter we thought might be play or showing-off," he told New Scientist. But that evening when they developed photos of the encounter, they spotted the dolphin slurping a fish from the shell.

The team speculates the dolphins may chase fish into the conch and then raise it above the surface, knocking the shell around to stun the fish before tipping it into their mouths. "That conching behaviour is really about foraging," says Allen.
Conching dolphin

Michael Kr?tzen, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, notes that dolphins in Shark Bay employ many different foraging tactics, giving them access to prey others can't reach. One of the conching dolphins, which they've called William the Concherer, has a different fatty acid profile than other dolphins suggesting these techniques give access to a novel food source.

However, Janet Mann, an ethologist at the University of Georgetown in Washington DC who has extensively studied the Shark Bay dolphins and witnessed conching herself, says the behaviour is so rare that it is hard to draw firm conclusions. "We still don't know the full story with the conch," she says.

Allen and his colleagues also suggest that conching is a rare behavioural trait. It appears to have cropped up in both East and West bay dolphins which don't mix, suggesting that the dolphins have independently come up with this innovation rather than learned it from each other.

Foraging behaviours are often learned by daughters from their mothers, so it would be interesting to see whether conching is also passed on culturally, says Kr?tzen.

Journal reference: Marine Mammal Science, DOI: 10.1111/j.1748-7692.2010.00409.x
 

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Dolphins attempt common language
By Matt Walker
Editor, Earth News

When two dolphin species come together, they attempt to find a common language, preliminary research suggests.

Bottlenose and Guyana dolphins, two distantly related species, often come together to socialise in waters off the coast of Costa Rica.

Both species make unique sounds, but when they gather, they change the way they communicate, and begin using an intermediate language.

That raises the possibility the two species are communicating in some way.

I wouldn't be surprised that they can modify their signals to mimic, and even possibly communicate with other species
Biologist Dr Laura May-Collado

Details are published in the journal Ethology.

It is not yet clear exactly what is taking place between the two dolphin species, but it is the first evidence that the animals modify their communications in the presence of other species, not just other dolphins of their own kind.

Biologist Dr Laura May-Collado of the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan made the discovery studying dolphins swimming in the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge of the southern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica.

Bottlenose dolphins ( Tursiops truncatus ) are larger, measuring up to 3.8m long, with a long dorsal fin.

Guyana dolphins ( Sotalia guianensis ) are much smaller, measuring 2.1m long, and have a smaller dorsal fin and longer snout, known as a rostrum.

Both species swim in groups made up of their own kind.

When bottlenose dolphins swim together, they emit longer, lower frequency calls, that are modulated.

In contrast, Guyana dolphins usually communicate using higher frequency whistles that have their own particular structure.

But often, the two species swim together in one group. These interactions are usually antagonistic, as the larger bottlenose dolphins harass the smaller Guyana dolphins.

When the two dolphins gather, they produce quite different calls, Dr May-Collado has discovered.

Crucially, calls emitted during these multi-species encounters are of an intermediate frequency and duration.

In other words, the dolphins start communicating in a style that is somewhere between those of the two separate species.

"I was surprised by these findings, as I was expecting both species to emphasise, perhaps exaggerate, their species-specific signals," Dr May-Collado told the BBC.

"Instead the signals recorded during these encounters became more homogenous.

"This was a very exciting discovery."

As yet, Dr May-Collado cannot be sure if both species are changing the way they communicate, or whether it is one species attempting to call more like the other.

That is because her sound equipment could only record the total calls produced by mixed species groups of dolphins, and could not separate out sounds made by individuals.

"This limits how much I can say about how much they are communicating," says Dr May-Collado.

However, dolphins are known to have an extraordinary ability to change their calls when 'talking' to other individuals, or to ensure they are heard over the din of background noise pollution.

So "I wouldn't be surprised that they can modify their signals to mimic, and even possibly communicate with other species. Particularly when their home ranges force them to interact on a daily basis, which is the case of this study," she says.

It is also unclear whether the two species are simply learning to communicate using a common language, or whether the Guyana dolphins alone are making the new sounds due to stress.

It could even be that the Guyana dolphins are attempting "to emit threatening sounds in the language of the intruder", in a bid to make the bottlenose dolphins desist, Dr May-Collado says.
Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/earth/ ... 045389.stm
 

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Dolphins 'walk' on water
Dolphins in the wild are teaching themselves to "walk" with their tails along the surface of water, biologists have claimed.
Published: 9:29AM BST 23 Oct 2010

The mammals, which are celebrated for their playful natures, are developing the skill "just for fun", according to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) in Australia.

Dolphin tail-walking has no known practical function and has been likened to dancing in humans.

WDCS researcher Dr Mike Bossley, who has observed Adelaide's Port River dolphins for the past 24 years, said he had documented spectacular tail walking in two adult female dolphins, known as Billie and Wave.

Now four other individuals have been recorded perfecting their walking techniques – Wave's calf Tallula, Bianca and her calf Hope, and calf Bubbles.

Tail walking is very rare in the wild and in thousands of hours of observation only one other dolphin has ever been observed tail walking in the Port River, and then only once.

The Port Adelaide dolphins are now said to be tail walking many times each day.

It is thought the mammals may have learned the remarkable skill from Billie – who spent a short period at a visitor attraction 22 years ago.

Dr Bossley said that the spread of tail walking appeared to be motivated by "fun", but it was also linked to a serious and fascinating cultural aspect previously unseen in the species.

He said: "Culture in the wider sense of the term, defined as 'learned behaviour characteristic of a community', is now frequently on show in the Port River. This cultural behaviour is of great significance for conservation.

"Cultural behaviours in animals have been identified in several species, particularly chimpanzees. However, most if not all the cultural behaviours described to-date have been of a utilitarian nature, mainly to do with obtaining food.
"A well known chimpanzee example is using a twig to extract termites from a nest in the Gombe Stream reserve.

"The only dolphin example seen up to now is in Shark Bay, West Australia, where a small group of dolphins habitually carry a sponge on the end of their jaw while fishing to protect them from fish spines.

"As far as we are aware, tail walking has no practical function and is performed just for fun – akin to human dancing or gymnastics. As such, it represents an internationally important example of the behavioural similarities between humans and dolphins."

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/wildli ... water.html
 

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Successful Mothers Get Help From Their Friends: Dolphin Study
02 Nov 2010

Female dolphins who have help from their female friends are far more successful as mothers than those without such help, according to a landmark new study.

Previous research into reproductive success in animal populations has had mixed findings: some studies point to the benefits of inherited genetic characteristics, while others show the benefits of social effects, such as having an honorary aunt or uncle or other unrelated helpers.

The new study is the first to look at the effects of these factors together in a wild animal population and has shown that social and genetic effects are both important for reproduction.

The finding, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was only possible thanks to 25 years of field observations by an international team of behavioural researchers on the dolphin population at Shark Bay, in Western Australia, plus more than a decade of genetic samples taken by a team led by Dr Bill Sherwin of the UNSW School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences and Dr Michael Kruetzen of the University of Zurich.

"Surprisingly, the genetic and social effects on reproduction have never been studied together in natural populations," says Dr Sherwin. "One of my doctoral students, Celine Frere, who led the latest study, realised that we could do so by using the long-term observations about which females were associating with each other, and putting that together with what we knew about their genetic relationships."

Dr Frere found that a female's calving success is boosted either by social association with other females that had high calving success, or by the female having relatives who are good at calving.

"Not only that, but the social and genetic effects interact in an intriguing way," says Dr Sherwin. "Having successful sisters, aunts and mothers around certainly boosts a female's calving success. But the benefits of social associates were more important for female pairs who were less genetically related."

Dr Frere, who is now at the University of Queensland, says it is still unclear why female dolphins need such help to be more successful mothers: "Dolphins in this population are attacked by sharks, so protection by other females may help reproduction," she says. "But the females may need protection against their own species as well, especially when they are younger."

In another study published earlier this year, the team showed that younger females are susceptible to inbred matings, which reduce their reproductive output because such calves are slower to wean.

Dr Frere's PhD was carried out in the UNSW Evolution and Ecology Research Centre. Her co-supervisors were Michael Kruetzen (now at the University of Zürich), and Janet Mann (Georgetown University). Other participants in this study were Richard Connor (UMASS-Dartmouth) and Lars Bejder (Murdoch University).

Source:
Bob Beale
University of New South Wales

Article URL: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/206405.php
 

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Even blindfolded, dolphins are masters of imitation
http://www.newsdaily.com/stories/tre70d32d-us-dolphins/
By Jane SuttonPosted 2011/01/14 at 9:08 am EST

MIAMI, Jan. 14, 2011 (Reuters) — Even blindfolded, a 7-year-old bottlenose dolphin named Tanner was able to mimic another dolphin's behavior -- proof, according to Florida researchers, that dolphins are masters of imitation second only to humans.

When his sight was blocked, Tanner used other senses to figure out what the other dolphin was doing and copy it, the researchers at the Dolphin Research Center in the Florida Keys said in a study published in the International Journal of Comparative Psychology.

Researchers at the non-profit center hope to conduct further studies to "map the dolphin mind" in order to learn more about the evolution of human cognition.

"Looking at an animal (which is) so far removed from us and yet shares some cognitive abilities, tells us something about us," said Dr. Kelly Jaakkola, the center's research director.

The ability to imitate is rare in animals. Primates such chimpanzees can sometimes do it but only humans and dolphins are proficient, said Jaakkola, one of the study's authors.

"Most people think, 'Monkey see, monkey do.' It's a complete myth. Dolphins are really good at it. Aside from humans, they're the best at it," Jaakkola said on Thursday.

Like other dolphins at the center, Tanner had already been trained to do a list of tricks such as sinking underwater and blowing bubbles, retrieving an object from the lagoon, making a noise like a seagull, and rising and offering a fin to "shake hands" with a person kneeling on the dock.

CLICKS AND WHISTLES

In their test, the researchers gave Tanner a familiar hand signal asking him to imitate another dolphin, then covered his eyes with soft latex eyecups to block his sight. Then they used hand signals to ask the partner dolphin to do a specific trick, and within seconds, Tanner imitated the other dolphin.

They tested him repeatedly on 31 different behaviors in sessions spread over 11 weeks. In some sessions he was blindfolded and in others he was not. In both cases, he was able to imitate the other dolphin's behavior far more often than would be expected by chance, the researchers said.

When blindfolded, he imitated the vocal behavior with 75 percent accuracy, motor behavior with 41 percent accuracy and combined behavior with 50 percent accuracy.

Researchers were uncertain whether Tanner figured out what the other dolphin was doing because he recognized the sound that action made or whether he used echolocation. This is a sensory system bats and dolphins use to determine the direction and distance of objects by how long it takes an echo to return.

"In either case ... he's problem solving," Jaakkola said. "That level of flexibility in imitation has never been seen in a non-human animal."

Tanner was chosen for the study because he "really loves playing games" and was comfortable with the eyecups, Jaakkola said. He was partnered in the tests with two other males who live in the same lagoon.

Tanner was born in captivity but dolphins in the wild are known to imitate each other. Male dolphins do synchronized displays around females, with one leading, the other copying.

Dolphins also copy each other's distinctive signature whistles, which act as names. They call out their own to announce their presence and imitate another's whistle to call to that animal, Jaakkola said.

They make a variety of other whistles and clicks. Jaakkola seemed skeptical when asked if perhaps the other dolphins had simply told the blindfolded Tanner which trick to perform.

"Nobody's been able to find any sort of meaning in (their sounds). That doesn't mean it doesn't exist," she said.

The Florida researchers want to conduct further studies to see if dolphins can learn new tricks while blindfolded. They hope that by demonstrating dolphins' intelligence, they will give humans more incentive to conserve them, Jaakkola said.

(Edited by Pascal Fletcher and Eric Beech)
 

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The cultural life of whales
New research suggests that whales use their sophisticated communication techniques to develop distinct and separate cultures. Biologist Hal Whitehead and writer and self-confessed 'whalehead' Philip Hoare discuss this new frontier
Philip Hoare and Hal Whitehead The Observer, Sunday 30 January 2011

Whales are not only the largest animals that have ever lived – they are also among the most intelligent, and yet we still know very little about them. New research, however, suggests that sperm whales at least use sophisticated communication techniques to develop distinct and separate cultures. Here to discuss the latest in cetacean research to mark next month's Peninsula Arts Whale Festival, are Philip Hoare, a self-confessed "whalehead" and author of Leviathan or, The Whale, winner of the 2009 BBC Samuel Johnson Prize, and Dr Hal Whitehead from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, a world expert on sperm whales.

etc... [long article]

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2011/ ... -whitehead
 

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ramonmercado said:
Dolphins attempt common language
By Matt Walker
Editor, Earth News

When two dolphin species come together, they attempt to find a common language, preliminary research suggests.
I bet they just make the same noises, but louder and more slowly.
 

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Anome_ said:
ramonmercado said:
Dolphins attempt common language
By Matt Walker
Editor, Earth News

When two dolphin species come together, they attempt to find a common language, preliminary research suggests.
I bet they just make the same noises, but louder and more slowly.
But they do it porpoisefully.
 

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What do they talk about? The price of fish?
 

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Californian dolphin gang caught killing porpoises
http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg2 ... oises.html
02 June 2011 by Shaoni Bhattacharya
Magazine issue 2815.

SEEMINGLY random acts of violence by bottlenose dolphins on porpoises could be down to sexual frustration among young males.

Cases of the cetaceans killing other creatures for no apparent reason have been reported in UK waters. Now bottlenose dolphins have been seen attacking harbour porpoises in the Pacific Ocean. Crucially, these observations show for the first time that the attackers are young males (Marine Mammal Science, DOI: 10.1111/j.1748-7692.2011.00474.x).

Mark Cotter at Okeanis, a non-profit conservation organisation in Moss Landing, California, and colleagues observed three acts of aggression by dolphins on lone porpoises. The dolphins chased the porpoises at high speed, rammed and then drowned them.

In one particularly violent attack, three dolphins corralled their victim before seven others joined them to ram the porpoise to death. Cotter found most shocking the fact that two dolphins remained behind to play with the carcass before pushing it towards his boat. "It was almost like they said: 'We're done playing with it, here you go'."

Competition for food does not seem to explain the attacks, as the dietary overlap between the two species is small, says Cotter. But the fact that 21 of the 23 attackers were males may be revealing. He believes that the attacks are "object oriented play" during the breeding season by young males who cannot get access to females because of competition from older males. "They are taking out their frustrations," he says.

"The identification of the 'culprits' as male is valuable," says Nick Tregenza, an adviser to the Marine Strandings Network in Cornwall, UK, and visiting researcher at the University of Exeter. That's because it helps narrow down potential explanations for the behaviour, he says.
 

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What's that you say, Flipper? Experts develop tools to talk to dolphins
For decades scientists have been trying to fathom how dolphins communicate.
By Mark Piesing
Thursday, 9 June 2011

Spielberg should be directing it, or perhaps Richard Curtis. Off the Bahamas a dolphinologist and an artificial intelligence specialist thrown together on board The Stenella are this summer developing a piece of hi-tech gadgetry that will, if it works, fulfil the 1960s' vision of talking to dolphins – and, if he shows up, ET as well. 8)

Although no photographs of it have been released yet, we know the Spielbergian-sounding Cetacean Hearing and Telemetry, or CHAT, interface is real, as are the hopes it carries. It is an iPhone-sized device with two hydrophones attached and a unique one-handed keyboard called a twiddler, which, when combined, is designed to be worn around a diver's neck while swimming with wild dolphins. Inside this box is a processor that contains a complex algorithm or pattern detector that, it is hoped, will learn to identify the fundamental units of dolphin acoustic communication to enable humans to decode dolphin and then reply.

"CHAT is more a potential interface than a translator as it is supplying us humans with an acoustic bridge to allow exchanges between two acoustic species," says Dr Denise Herzing, of the Department of Biological and Psychological Sciences at Florida Atlantic University and founder of the Wild Dolphin Project. She began her long-term study of a pod of Atlantic spotted dolphins in 1985 and, with Dr Thad Starner from the Georgia Institute of Technology School of Interactive Sciences, is the brains behind CHAT.

"As dolphins are likely to be the second smartest creature on the planet, with similar cognitive abilities and complex social structures to humans, this device will hopefully open the window for a great understanding and connection with other sentient beings. Similar interfaces created for chimps and parrots have already increased our understanding of the abilities of these species."

Dr Herzing is already running workshops with SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) on how to identify non-human intelligences and how to then communicate with them.

She is just the latest scientist to try to crack the dolphin's code since the idea that we could actually talk to dolphins emerged in the 1960s.

Although the 3,500-year-old dolphin fresco on the walls of the Palace of Knossos in Crete is testament to humanity's long love affair with Flipper, it was only after psychoanalyst John C Lilly popularised the idea that dolphins could talk – in bestsellers such as Man and Dolphin (1961) – that researchers began to take the notion seriously. Lilly believed the size of the dolphin's brain relative to its body mass and its linguistic ability marked it out as being a kind of alien on Earth. He was one of 12 scientists, calling themselves the Order of the Dolphin, who founded SETI in 1961.

Since then, researchers such as Dr Louis Herman, at the Dolphin Institute at the Kewalo Basin Marine Mammal Laboratory in Hawaii, have established that not only can dolphins understand a couple of hundred words using gestures and symbols, they understand syntax too, and even the difference between a statement and a question.

This line of research, though, tapered off (the Dolphin Institute ended its research in this field in 2004) due in part to the expense and time it took to train dolphins and as research was focusing on understanding how the dolphin mind works and how they communicate with each other. There was also a feeling among some researchers that the species had been pushed as far as they could go.

But Dr Herzing had a hunch that there was another reason. "Most scientists create a system of communication and expect the dolphins – especially those in captivity – to learn it by using fish as a reward, and they do it, but the dolphins are not empowered to use the system to request things from the humans."

From 1997, Dr Herzing's first attempts to try and co-evolve a language with dolphins led to the creation of a large keyboard with symbols on – called a lexigram board – that were paired with a whistle, so when underwater, dolphins could either press a button with their nose or mimic the whistle to receive the toy they wanted.

She now hopes CHAT is going to develop this work further. Initially divers will play one of eight words Dr Herzing has come up with for things that dolphins like, whether "seaweed" or "bow wave ride", and then the software will listen to see if the dolphins mimic them. Then after CHAT's algorithm has in effect learned dolphin by listening to it, it will try to identify the words and grammar of "dolphinese" in the hope that it will help scientists create their own dolphin-like signals; although in the end the interface still depends on humans to interpret what the dolphins actually mean.

For Justin Gregg, from Dolphin Communication Project based in Old Mystic, Connecticut, whose own research eavesdrops on natural dolphin communication, CHAT is another way in which new technology is revolutionising how scientists study dolphins, whether it is the electronic tags dolphins wear or recording devices planted on the seabed.

However for Gregg, while CHAT is "cool and innovative" and the questions it is designed to answer are "perfectly legitimate", the interface may struggle as the building blocks it is looking for may not exist in the first place. He believes the evidence for dolphins actually having a language "just doesn't add up". "They certainly have some of the attributes that a language requires, but we know now that many species do. In fact there is not more potential in dolphins; it's about the same as other animals."
That doesn't stop people believing that they are special, Gregg says. "It's a hangover from the 1960s."

While Dr Seth Shostak, SETI's chief astronomer, shares Gregg's concerns over just how special dolphins actually are, he is also worried about whether we will actually be able to understand anything the dolphins are saying if the interface does work.

"As dolphins can't pick up a screw driver, they are never going to have the kind of technological civilisation that humans have, so even if we were able to pick out distinct dolphin words we would be unlikely to have any idea what they meant as their world view is going to be so different from ours."

With the summer a "resounding success" so far for CHAT, Dr Herzing is confident that this is only the start of a journey in two-way communication. After all, if some day there was a close encounter it "would be nice if we'd had some practice with both etiquette and the ethics of interacting, as well as establishing some potential universal protocols". Glimpses of which, she believes, she has seen already in the mimicry, imitation and synchrony dolphins have initiated to engage with humans.

So this time, if ET turns up, he won't have to phone home.

http://www.independent.co.uk/environmen ... 94834.html
 

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Dolphins kept vigil on Irishman's body
http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ire ... 53876.html
NICK BRAMHILL

Sat, Jun 18, 2011

A GRIEVING mother said yesterday that she drew comfort at her son’s funeral yesterday after learning that a pod of dolphins had kept a vigil on his body after his fatal accident in Australia.

Shaun McBride, from Co Donegal, died in a tragic accident less than two weeks ago in Dampier, Western Australia, when scaffolding collapsed into the water beneath him.

He was buried after a funeral Mass in St Columba’s church in Burtonport.

His mother, Sylvia, said the remarkably affectionate scene which rescuers witnessed had a special poignancy as her son had a huge attachment to dolphins as a young child.

He had only arrived in Western Australia six weeks before his death.

Speaking ahead of the funeral, Perth-based priest Fr Joe Walsh said the family had found comfort when he told them about the dolphins’ remarkable vigil.

Fr Walsh said: “We’ve learnt that a few hours after the accident when divers went to retrieve his body, they saw a big pod of dolphins swimming around him.

“And there was one dolphin that was using its nose to try to lift the body up to the surface.

“But it wasn’t able to do so because the body was caught up in the scaffolding.”
 

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Meet the real-life Flipper: The extraordinary relationship between a woman and her wild dolphin friend
By Daily Mail Reporter
Last updated at 3:04 PM on 9th August 2011

Meet the woman who can count a wild dolphin among her closest friends.
Dolphin expert Ute Margreff spends up to seven hours per day in chilly waters off the coast of Ireland with her dolphin pal, Mara.

For the last 12 years the German native has travelled the world studying the behaviour of solitary dolphins in the wild.
But it is her incredible relationship with female dolphin Mara that brings Ute to Galway Bay where she conducts her research all year round.
Ute's relationship with her sea pal, resonates a striking similarity to the TV series and film Flipper, in which a bottlenose dolphin is the close companion of the sons of a warden at a marine preserve in Florida.

The dolphin expert says: ‘I think my research will make people re-examine what they think they know about dolphins,’ explained the 43-year-old.
‘Very few marine researchers have the privilege to study up close the way I do.
‘It is important to have a certain mind-set, to be rational and open-hearted at the same time.
‘With me, I feel like I'm getting educated by the dolphins. It's pioneering work to be learning about inter-species communication.’

When Ute was first introduced to the aquatic mammal in 2000, she said she knew that Mara was special.
Ute said: ‘Mara was very open, allowing our interaction to happen. From that point I knew I was going to be studying dolphins full-time.’

And according to Ute, although well known for being friendly, dolphins are as keen to learn about the human world, as she is to better understand theirs.

And Mara wants Ute to know all about the underwater world she inhabits.
Since their first meeting in 2000, Mara has introduced Ute to a range of sea life including wild dolphin pods, sunfish, porpoise and seals.
Ute said: ‘I was speaking with a seal expert with decades of experience who was absolutely amazed at the seal-human-dolphin interaction.’

Mara also brings ‘gifts’ from the seabed, including rubbish left behind by humans.
Ute said: ‘She brought me a discarded food processor recently.
‘It was like she was letting me know that she knows it was something from our world.’

The passionate researcher believes that humans should see dolphins as ‘non-human people’ who are free to make decisions about their own lives.
She said: ‘When I am in the water I have to tune into the dolphin consciousness and dolphin being and let go of my human perceptions.

‘In the beginning I was like a blank piece of paper. It's been a very natural process.
‘The long-term goal is that we get a whole new idea of how intelligent dolphins are and consider their behaviour and their communication.
‘I would like to see the end of dolphinariums. I think we are kind of dislocated from nature and that we have to let go of trying to control other creatures.’

Since starting her research, Ute has come to know many of the dolphins without pods that swim the waters of Northern Europe including Fungi, Duggie and Doni.
She said: ‘I think it's important that people realise dolphins have personalities as unique as ours.
‘Mara is very clever and highly sociable. My research shows that solitary dolphins can happily interact with pods, and they frequently do.
‘Like humans they make their own choices about how they lives their lives.

‘Because I spend most of my time in the ocean, I'm living in a place with no boundaries.
‘If I am in the boat, I might only see what's happening on the surface and not seeing what's going on under water.
‘When I get into the water it opens up a whole different level.’

The researcher is currently raising awareness about the plight of Morgan, a young female Orca, who is housed in a dolphinarium in Holland.
Ute said: ‘I feel very passionately that all wild sea creatures should remain wild and free.
‘Orcas can swim up to 100 km per day, yet Morgan has been held in a small concrete tank at the Harderwijk Dolfinarium for the past year.
‘It's no place for a wild animal. She needs to be brought back to the ocean where she belongs.’

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article ... z1UZ25jUxV
 

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Ocean Giants
Ocean Giants, Episode 1: Giant Lives

Ground-breaking documentary granting a unique and privileged access into the magical world of whales and dolphins, uncovering the secrets of their intimate lives as never before. This episode explores the intimate details of the largest animals that have ever lived on our planet- the great whales. From the balmy waters of the Indian Ocean to the freezing seas of the Arctic, two daring underwater cameramen - Doug Allan, Planet Earth's polar specialist, and Didier Noirot, Cousteau's front-line cameraman - come face-to-face with fighting humpback whales and two-hundred-ton feeding blue whales. Teaming up with top whale scientists, Giant Lives discovers why southern right whales possess a pair of one-ton testicles, why the arctic bowhead can live to over two hundred years old, and why size truly matters in the world of whales.

Today on BBC1 London from 9:00pm to 10:00pm
 

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Do not swim with dolphins warning
9:00am Saturday 20th August 2011

The populations of bottlenose dolphins in the seas off Cornwall are declining in numbers - but scientists now believe they know why.
Over a period of six years, volunteers of Cornwall Wildlife Trust's Marine Strandings Network have collected bodies of stranded bottlenose dolphins washed ashore.
They then take them to the pathologists at the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) at Polwhele in Truro to be examined.

There, half of the dead creatures were discovered to be carrying a bacterium called Brucella ceti, which is known to have serious health implications for the animals.
Although the bacteria is not easily passed to humans, people are warned not to swim with the dolphins.

The second shock for the researchers was the very high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (known as PCBs) in the blubber of two of the dolphins.
One of them had the highest level of PCBs recorded in this species in the UK in the last 20 years.
PCBS are toxins found in paints and cements, fire retardants, adhesives and hydraulic fluids.
They were banned more than 20 years ago, but still appear to be finding their way into the sea, where they can make the dolphins more susceptible to bacteria such as Brucella.
Scientists now think that chemical pollutants such as PCBs may be one of the possible causes of the decline of the local bottlenose dolphins.

Jan Loveridge, Coordinator of the Strandings Network said: “Strandings and sightings data suggest that UK bottlenose dolphin populations, including ours in Cornwall, have declined markedly from historic levels and the loss of any individuals from such a small population will have a strong impact on its ability to survive.
“We're so fortunate to have this local laboratory to help us find out what's killing our dolphins."

The publication describing the findings of this research can be read on the Marine Strandings Network's website www.cwtstrandings.org/publications.htm

http://www.falmouthpacket.co.uk/news/fp ... s_warning/
 
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