We’ve known for years that dolphins are pretty smart. People regard them as intelligent as monkeys, but they move in a deep silent world where we can’t make out their language or understand the many ways they use their sonar projections.
Well, Holli Eskelinen of Dolphins Plus, a research institute in Florida, plus some co-workers from the University of Southern Mississippi have discovered that dolphins not only can work together to solve a problem, but they talk to each other while they are doing it. At the research institute, dolphins were present with a locked canister filled with food. The canister could only be opened by one dolphin pulling one loop and the other doing the same with the other loop.
While dolphins are pretty smart they aren’t often presented with puzzles in the wild, so several of the six porpoises waved off the experiment. However, one pair of dolphins worked together to open 20 of the canisters in as little as 30 seconds. In four other trials, a single dolphin opened the canister on his own, but it involved a much tricker set of maneuvers and took longer to execute.
It wasn’t just the fact that the dolphins worked together to get their food that wowed the researchers, it was the fact that they were chattering with each other quite rapidly during the tests. Dolphins tend to make sounds while they are off on their own, but when they are with another dolphin, they tend to make a chattering sound, which is still quite randomly used.
When doing the test, the dolphins who worked together highly increased the amount of chatter and seemed to be directed at the issue of canister opening. The dolphin who opened the canister on his own didn’t chatter.
“This is the first time that we can say conclusively that dolphin vocalizations were used to solve a cooperative task,” Eskelinen told New Scientist magazine.
“The study clearly shows that dolphins using vocal communication to jointly solve problems, said Leigh Torres, a marine ecologist from Oregon State University. “The results point toward the possibility of a dolphin language that enables team problem solving.
But then we already knew that didn’t we? Flipper wasn’t chattering at his owners tor no reason at all. Too bad we still can’t understand dolphin language. But the day will come, I’m quite sure.