Monday, June 23, 2008

Why We Do Research

Talon correctly chooses the board with fewer dots in our "Less" research study.

We’re frequently asked why we do research. What’s the point? There are lots of different reasons. Some of our research is observational. By studying our resident pod, we learn things about their general behavior, their physiology, their development. Sharing this knowledge with other scientists is helpful. For example, we’re often lucky enough to be present when a new calf is born. We videotape and photograph that baby from birth, and track its progress with additional video and pictures for the first few months of its life.

When born, the calves have fetal bands that look like stripes of lighter gray skin around their bodies. The fetal bands are formed when the baby is still scrunched up in its mom’s uterus. Over time, those fetal bands fade – and we keep track of that timing. If a researcher in the wild spots a dolphin calf, he can refer to the data we’ve collected and, possibly, estimate the age of the baby according to the color of the fetal bands.

Dolphins in the open oceans have been observed behaving in ways that appeared to indicate that they understood something about numbers and quantity. However, until we did our study on Understanding of the Concept of Numerically “Less”, nobody could say for sure if dolphins could actually grasp numbers concepts. Now we know that they can!

Each research study contributes to the global understanding of these amazing animals, which brings us to another important reason for asking, and answering, research questions. We believe that people care more about animals when they perceive them to be intelligent. The more the people of the world care about dolphins and other marine life, the more likely they are to protect them and the ocean environment.

That alone is reason enough!
For more information about Dolphin Research Center's current and past research, visit our website at