MARATHON, Florida Keys – Do bottlenose dolphins work together to complete and complete tasks?
"Yes," says a study by marine mammal researchers at the Dolphin Research Center in the Florida Keys.
The nearly one year project reveals that dolphins cooperate to accomplish a task together.
The research, conducted in collaboration with a scientist at the University of Western Australia, studied pairs of dolphins swimming in a Florida Keys lagoon to reach out and press black underwater buttons. The buttons were attached to a computer above the surface to record actions and the time difference when the two dolphins pressed the buttons.
"We wanted to see if the dolphins could cooperate actively," said Kelly Jaakkola (YAH-ko-lah), the research director of the DRC. "The game was that the dolphins had to swim through the pond and press the buttons simultaneously … specifically, within a time span of one second. "
In some tests, the dolphins were sent together, Jaakkola noted. In others, there was a delay in sending a partner. The other would wait, so they both pressed their buttons simultaneously.
"The dolphins were not successful in this test, they were incredible," she said. "In the end, the time difference between buttons pressed was only 370 milliseconds.
"That's about a third of a second," Jaakkola added. "That kind of accuracy shows that they not only cooperated … so they actively coordinated in a super-precise way to synchronize their behaviors."
What is known as "behavioral synchronization," shown by bottlenose dolphins in nature when they coordinate their swimming or feeding, is probably a general cognitive skill that they can apply to many activities, Jaakkola said.
Researchers in the DRC are also studying whether dolphins use vocal signals or other forms of coordinating actions.
The results of the study were published in a journal of biological research of The Royal Society, a scientific academy based in the United Kingdom.
Bottle-nosed dolphins can understand the role of their partners in a cooperative task.