Dolphin Cognition and Behavior: A Comparative Approach

By Ronald J. Schusterman; Jeanette A. Thomas et al. | Go to book overview

Foreword

The conference on dolphin cognition and behavior held at the Hubbs Marine Research Institute at Sea World in June, 1983 led to a stimulating and productive exchange of data and ideas. I am sure I speak for all the participants in thanking the organizers and sponsors for making this possible. The resulting papers (which are far too numerous and diverse for any meaningful review here) include both first-hand reports of dolphin behavior strongly suggesting cognition, and reviews of experiments with other animals whose abilities are relevant and helpful to those planning further investigations of dolphin mentality. While parrots and apes are obviously very different from cetaceans, the eye-opening discoveries made in the past few years about their apparently intentional communication provide significant comparisons with the emerging picture of cognition in dolphins and other marine mammals. It is obvious that dolphins' behavior is complex and versatile. Despite the lack of hands they can learn to carry out a variety of manipulative tasks. Complex communicative exchanges take place under natural conditions, and in captivity they can learn to understand a variety of visual and acoustic signals.

A highly significant but neglected question is whether dolphins are consciously aware of what they are doing. To many people the versatility and complexity of their behavior makes it obvious that they must often be acting intentionally, with some understanding of the likely results of their behavior. For example, dolphins are often kept together in small groups from which only one is trained to perform a complex set of maneuvers to entertain the public. In some cases when the trained animal is removed, another immediately performs the complex actions without prior experience or practice ( Herman 1980). Perhaps one dolphin can learn the gymnastic tricks of another without thinking about

-xi-

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