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It’s Time To Breach The Snake River Dams

The Snake River dams were controversial even before they were built.  While they were still...
Save the whale. Save the world.

Climate giants – how whales can help save the world

We know that whales, dolphins, and porpoises are amazing beings with complex social and family...
Nat Geo for Disney+ Luis Lamar

Five Facts About Orcas

Orcas, also known as killer whales, are one of the most recognizable and popular species...
Alexi Archer cropped

Meet the 2022 Interns: Alexi Archer

I am thrilled to welcome Alexi to WDC as the newest member of our Marine...
Saya

Meet the 2022 Interns: Saya Butani

I'm happy to welcome the newest member of the WDC team, Saya Butani, who is...
Block Island wind credit: Regina Asutis-Silvia

Offshore Wind: Don’t Blow It

Recently, new areas were added to the growing list of potential sites for offshore wind...
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Meet the 2022 Interns: Sierra Osborne

I'm delighted to introduce WDC's Conservation Education intern for Summer 2022, Sierra Osborne! Without hesitation,...
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...

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.