Tool Use in Bottlenose Dolphins

Shark Bay Dolphins Use Marine Sponges in Foraging Behavior


Tool use was once considered an ability possessed only by humans. However, it has been shown that a number of different animals use tools, including primates, elephants, otters, several bird species, and dolphins. Once one individual has developed tool use, the ability is culturally transmitted to other individuals. This is why many animals that use tools live in highly social communities, where frequent contact with other individuals facilitates learning. A behavioral trait such as tool use is considered to vary culturally if it is acquired through social learning from members of its species, and is repeatedly transmitted across generations. Cultural transmission can occur vertically (from parents to children), horizontally (between peers) or obliquely (from adults to children who are not their offspring).

Bottlenose dolphins in Shark Bay, Australia, have been observed using marine sponges as foraging tools. The dolphins detach a sponge from the sea floor and wear it over their rostrum while searching for small fish in the muddy sea floor of deep-water channels. When fish are disturbed from the mud, the dolphin will drop the sponge and chase the fish, collecting the sponge again when it is ready to continue searching.




Image from [3]