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  • Print publication year: 2003
  • Online publication date: October 2009

9 - Like mother, like calf: the ontogeny of foraging traditions in wild Indian Ocean bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops sp.)



In this chapter, we identify aspects of delphinid socioecology and life history that relate to the probability and utility of socially aided learning. We also present new findings from our on-going research with dolphins at Shark Bay, Australia that address the possibility that the acquisition of specialized foraging techniques by young dolphins is aided by their affiliation with their mothers and, thus, may be viewed as likely traditions. Studies of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops spp.) in captive and field settings over the last four decades indicate that this genus shows remarkable plasticity and convergent features with primates. Similar to primates, bottlenose dolphins have a long period of dependency and juvenile development (Mann et al., 2000), large brains for body size (Marino, 1998; Ridgway, 1986), complex alliance formation (Connor et al., 2000a), and social learning (reviewed in Janik, 1999; Janik and Slater, 1997; Rendell and Whitehead, 2001). Unlike nonhuman primates, bottlenose dolphins also show vocal learning in call production (Janik and Slater, 1997, 2000; see also Ch. 8); they produce individually distinctive “signature whistles” (Sayigh et al., 1995, 1999; Tyack, 2000) and can also match each other's whistles in natural contexts (Janik, 2000).

Recently, several cetacean biologists have claimed that cetaceans have culture (Deecke, Ford, and Spong, 2000; Noad et al., 2000; Rendell and Whitehead, 2001; Whitehead, 1998). The strongest evidence for social learning comes from bottlenose dolphins studied in captive settings (reviewed by Rendell and Whitehead, 2001).

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The Biology of Traditions
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