Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Wild dolphins tail-walk 'just for fun'

Wild dolphins in Australia are naturally learning to "walk" on water. Six dolphins have now been seen mastering the technique - furiously paddling their tail fluke, forcing their body out and across the water. The dolphins seem to walk on water for fun, as it has no other obvious benefit, say scientists working for the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.

That makes the behaviour a rare example of animals "culturally transmitting" a playful rather than foraging behaviour. Only a few species are known to create their own culture - defined as the sharing or transmitting of specific novel behaviours or traditions between a community of animals.

The discovery was made by Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) scientist Dr Mike Bossley, who has spent 24 years studying dolphins living in the Port River in Adelaide, Australia. In past years, Dr Bossley has witnessed two wild adult female dolphins, named Billie and Wave for research purposes, attempting to walk on water. Now four other dolphins, including young infants, have been recorded trying to learn the trick from the two adults, and have been seen practising, less successfully, in the river.

According to the WDCS, apart from Billie and Wave, only one other adult dolphin had previously been seen tail-walking in the Port River during thousands of hours of scientific observations, and then only once. Billie is thought to have learned the trick during a brief period when she was held captive in a dolphinarium, before being released back into the wild. She passed the behaviour onto Wave, and now Billie and Wave appear to be passing on their knowledge of how to tail-walk to their wider community.

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