Can Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) Cooperate When Solving a Novel Task?

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Team Members:

Kelley Winship, Dolphins Plus
Holli Eskelinen, Dolphins Plus
Stan Kuczaj, University of Southern Mississippi


Cooperative behaviors can be observed in a variety of species in many different contexts. To better understand cooperation in animals, researchers will give the animal subjects cooperative problem solving tasks. Although dolphins have been observed to cooperate in a variety of different contexts, such as foraging and play, researchers had yet to test this species. Researchers at Dolphins Plus and the University of Southern Mississippi created a novel testing apparatus, nicknamed the Tug-O-Feeder, to test the cooperative abilities of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). Two adult males at Dolphins Plus Bayside, Alfonz and Kimbit, spontaneously cooperated to open the Tug-O-Feeder. Although other locations were also tested, only these two animals cooperated, suggesting that individual differences, dominance, and an animal’s sex may play important roles in dolphin cooperation.

Original Publication: 

Kuczaj, S. A., Winship, K. A., & Eskelinen, H.C. 2014. Can bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) cooperate when solving a novel task? Animal Cognition 18:543-550
DOI: 10.1007/s10071-014-0822-4

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By the Numbers

Over 40,000 students in 50 US states, the US Virgin Islands, and 25 countries participated as judges in the 2016 Ocean 180 Video Challenge.