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Humpback whale underwater

Climate giants – how whales can help save the world

We know that whales, dolphins and porpoises are amazing beings with complex social and family...
Black Sea common dolphins © Elena Gladilina

The dolphin and porpoise casualties of the war in Ukraine

Rare, threatened subspecies of dolphins and porpoises live in the Black Sea along Ukraine's coast....
WDC's Ed Fox, Chris Butler-Stroud and Carla Boreham take a message from the ocean to parliament

Taking a message from the ocean to parliament

It's a sad fact that whales and dolphins don't vote in human elections, but I...
Minke whale © Ursula Tscherter - ORES

The whale trappers are back with their cruel experiment

Anyone walking past my window might have heard my groan of disbelief at the news...
Boto © Fernando Trujillo

Meet the legendary pink river dolphins

Botos don't look or live like other dolphins. Flamingo-pink all over with super-skinny snouts and...
Tokitae in captivity

Talking to TUI – will they stop supporting whale and dolphin captivity?

Last Thursday I travelled to Berlin for a long-anticipated meeting with TUI senior executives. I...

Earth Day Q&A with Waipapa Bay Wines’ marketing director, Fran Draper

We've been partnered with Waipapa Bay Wines since 2019 so for this year's Earth Day,...
Orcas at the seabed

The secrets of orca beach life

Rubbing on smooth pebbles is a generations-old cultural tradition for a particular group of orcas...

Dolphins learning

Evidence is mounting rapidly for the social transmission of certain behaviours within some mammal populations. Dolphins are no exception and their ability to learn from others within their social groups may be an important factor when it comes to adapting to human induced change within their environments.

But what does ‘social transmission’ of behaviours actually mean? A great example is found in some of the bottlenose dolphins in Shark Bay, Western Australia that have learnt, through ‘social transmission’, to use sponges as tools to help extract prey. Calves learn this unique tool use behaviour from their mothers and dolphin researcher Janet Mann and her colleagues have also speculate that this behaviour seems to serves an affiliative function, where ‘spongers’ appear to be more ‘cliquish’ and prefer to associated with other ‘spongers’. This cliquish element might have an influence on how this type of novel behaviour spreads within a social group. 

Until recently the focus of research on these sponging dolphins has been on the eastern gulf of Shark Bay. But new research on dolphins living in the western gulf identified 40 individual ‘spongers’. As with the eastern gulf dolphins, the majority of spongers were female, sponging in deep channel habitats. But in the eastern gulf there was no observed difference in the number of associates between spongers and non-spongers. Spongers in the eastern gulf foraged more often that deep-water non-spongers and group sizes in deep-water habitat were typically larger, perhaps as a result of differences in prey distribution, or perhaps these larger groups are related to higher predator abundance.

Detailed research such as this, which tracks individuals and their unique behaviours is helping scientist to shine a light on some of the complex and rich social lives of other species, such as these extraordinary tool using dolphins.