For the first several years of a dolphin’s life, they live in a maternity pod where they learn all of their behaviors from their mothers and peers. Whether it’s where to get food or ways to entertain yourself, a lot of what makes a dolphin a dolphin is created at the start of their lives. At Dolphin Research Center, we are able to watch our family members from the first day of birth as they come into their own and create their unique dolphinality. Like humans, some dolphins learn more quickly than others. Some become independent at a very young age while others stick with their mother years longer than the rest of the pod.
Tursi is famous for keeping her calves longer than the other dolphins. Her youngest, Gambit, is currently three years old and still nurses in addition to eating some fish. The two of them do a lot of sessions together and when they are at separate docks, Tursi comes over several times to check in on her little boy. She’s notorious for taking a guest on a dorsal pull to the other side of the lagoon just, to make sure Gambit is being a good little boy.
Since momma Tursi runs the show, we let her decide when she thinks it’s time for Gambit to learn new games and play with new objects. Right now, he is learning to adlib, when we push the coolers back and ask the dolphins to do anything they choose. It’s a great game and shows us what behaviors the dolphins enjoy most. It also allows them to be creative and come up with ideas we never even thought to ask!
The funny part about Gambit learning to adlib is that he repeats everything his mom does. If Tursi waves, Gambit waves. If Tursi does a cartwheel, he does a cartwheel. It’s hilarious to see him copy her.
As Gambit gets a better handle on the concept of adlibbing, he’ll begin to make up his own mind as to what he likes to do. Soon, he’ll be ahead of his mom when we push back the coolers. Until then, we will continue to enjoy whatever he decides.