MARATHON, Florida Keys — Do bottlenose dolphins work together to perform and complete tasks?
“Yes,” says a study by marine mammal researchers at Dolphin Research Center in the Florida Keys.
The almost year-long project reveals that dolphins cooperate to perform a task together.
The research, conducted in collaboration with a University of Western Australia scientist, studied pairs of dolphins swimming across a Florida Keys lagoon to reach and press black underwater buttons. The buttons were wired to an above-surface computer to record actions and the time difference when both dolphins pushed the buttons.
“We wanted to see if dolphins could actively cooperate,” said Dr. Kelly Jaakkola (YAH’-ko-lah), DRC’s director of research. “The game was that the dolphins had to swim across the lagoon and press the buttons simultaneously … specifically, within a one-second time window. “
In some tests, the dolphins were sent together, Jaakkola noted. In others, there was a delay in sending one partner. The other would wait, so that both pressed their buttons simultaneously.
“The dolphins didn’t just succeed in this test, they were amazing, ” she said. “By the end, the difference in time between their button presses was just 370 milliseconds.
“That’s about a third of a second,” Jaakkola added. “That kind of precision shows that they didn’t just cooperate … then they actively coordinated in a super-precise way to synchronize their behaviors. “
What’s known as “behavioral synchronization,” shown by bottlenose dolphins in the wild when they coordinate their swimming or feeding, is likely a general cognitive ability they can apply to many activities, Jaakkola said.
DRC researchers are also studying whether dolphins use vocal signals or other ways to coordinate actions.
Study results were published in a biological research journal of The Royal Society, a United Kingdom-based scientific academy.