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Did you know that some dolphins use tools?

Nose sponger

Dolphins do not have hands but incredibly some do use tools - they use their mouths to hold them. Just like humans, dolphins live in societies with unique cultures. Meet the dolphin spongers, a cultural group of dolphins living in Shark Bay, Australia. The tools they use are cone-shaped marine sponges which grow on the seabed.

Spongers choose a sponge they think will work well, pull it off the seabed and wear it like a mask on their faces. This sponge-mask tool protects them from injuries and stings while they rummage for fish (sandperch) hiding under the rubble and sand.

These smart dolphins carry their sponge tool on their beaks from one location to another, and use it multiple times.  They can safely hunt for lots of tasty and nutritious fish on the seabed which other dolphins living in the area simply cannot get to.

The art of sponge- tool use doesn’t come naturally to dolphins; they have to learn how to do it over many years. It’s only calves of sponging mums who spend enough time being shown how to do it, time and time again, who can learn. Mother–baby sponge school runs every day and it starts from birth - youngsters start wearing their own mini sponge by the time they are two to three years old. The most skilled spongers are adult dolphins in their twenties.

Hanging out with friends

Spongers prefer to make friends with other spongers. They hunt alone (unless the sponger is a mother and so has her baby with her) for many hours every day.  When they put down their tools and socialise, they always seek out other sponger dolphins who are most like them. Just like humans they naturally seek out others who share similar traditions and habits.

Dolphin using a sponge as a tool
This dolphin is using a sponge to forage (S. Allen, Shark Bay Dolphin Research)