Thursday, January 14, 2016
Day 14: Imitate
We've all heard the expression "monkey see, monkey do" - but actually, that's a myth. Imitation is very rare in the animal kingdom and - apart from humans - the animal that us best at imitation is the dolphin.
We wanted to explore this ability further so we prepared two studies on imitation. In our first study, Blindfolded Imitation in a Bottle Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) that was published by the International Journal of Comparative Psychology, we asked Tanner to copy the behaviors of another dolphin while wearing eyecups. And... he could do it! But how? Without the ability to use his vision, he must have used sound, either by echolocating to "see" the behavior, or by recognizing the characteristic sound the behavior makes,
In our second study, called Switching Strategies: A Dolphin's use of Passive and Active Acoustics to Imitate Motor Actions, we discovered that when a dolphin could recognize the behavior by its characteristic sound, he did so. When he did not, he chose to use his echolocation in order to answer the question. This study was published in Animal Cognition. With these studies, DRC has shown that dolphins not only have the ability to imitate, but can imitate with a kind of problem-solving flexibility that's never been seen outside of humans.
Although these studies are very popular in the animal cognition world, DRC also gives our guests the opportunity to learn about the dolphins' imitation abilities during our narrated behavior sessions and interactive programs. We can ask the dolphins to imitate an array of behaviors, such as laughing, waving, spinning, spitting, splashing, bobbing up and down, doing a handstand (as you see in this photo), and more. With no additional information given to the dolphins, they have demonstrated that they can watch a subject then copy that specific behavior. It's a fun experience for our guests, and ties the knowledge they gain into a memory to be shared with others.