Kelly Jaakola, The Dolphin Research Center
Visual Communication Staff, Dolphin Research Center
Emily Guarino, Dolphin Research Center
Mandy Rodriguez, Dolphin Research Center
We’ve all heard the expression “monkey see, monkey do", but actually, that's a myth. Imitation is very rare in the animal kingdom. Apes can imitate sometimes, but – apart from humans – the animal best at imitation is the dolphin. Dolphin Research Center explored this ability further, by asking one of our dolphins to copy the behaviors of another dolphin while blindfolded (i.e. wearing soft suction cups that cover his eyes). And, he could do it! But how? Without the ability to use his vision, he must’ve used sound, either by echolocating to "see" the behavior, or by recognizing the characteristic sound the behavior makes. This shows that dolphins not only have the ability to imitate, but can imitate with a problem-solving flexibility (i.e., easily switching between sight and sound) that's never been seen outside of humans.
Blindfolded imitation in a bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)