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Minke whale © Ursula Tscherter - ORES

The whale trappers are back with their cruel experiment

Anyone walking past my window might have heard my groan of disbelief at the news...
Boto © Fernando Trujillo

Meet the legendary pink river dolphins

Botos don't look or live like other dolphins. Flamingo-pink all over with super-skinny snouts and...
Risso's dolphin entangled in fishing line and plastic bags - Andrew Sutton

The ocean is awash with plastic – can we ever clean it up?

You've seen pictures of plastic litter accumulating on beaches or marine wildlife swimming through floating...
Fin whale

Is this the beginning of the end for whaling off Iceland?

I'm feeling cautiously optimistic after Iceland's Fisheries Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir wrote that there is little...
Mykines Lighthouse, Faroe Islands

Understanding whale and dolphin hunts in the Faroe Islands – why change is not easy

Most people in my home country of the Faroe Islands would like to see an...

Dolphin scientists look like you and me – citizen science in action

Our amazing volunteers have looked out for dolphins from the shores of Scotland more than...
Atlantic white-sided dolphins

The Faroes dolphin slaughter that sparked an outcry now brings hope

Since the slaughter of at least 1,423 Atlantic white-sided dolphins at Skálafjørður in my home...
Fin whale

From managing commercial slaughter to saving the whale – the International Whaling Commission at 75

Governments come together under the auspices of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to make decisions...

Dolphins learning

Evidence is mounting rapidly for the social transmission of certain behaviours within some mammal populations. Dolphins are no exception and their ability to learn from others within their social groups may be an important factor when it comes to adapting to human induced change within their environments.

But what does ‘social transmission’ of behaviours actually mean? A great example is found in some of the bottlenose dolphins in Shark Bay, Western Australia that have learnt, through ‘social transmission’, to use sponges as tools to help extract prey. Calves learn this unique tool use behaviour from their mothers and dolphin researcher Janet Mann and her colleagues have also speculate that this behaviour seems to serves an affiliative function, where ‘spongers’ appear to be more ‘cliquish’ and prefer to associated with other ‘spongers’. This cliquish element might have an influence on how this type of novel behaviour spreads within a social group. 

Until recently the focus of research on these sponging dolphins has been on the eastern gulf of Shark Bay. But new research on dolphins living in the western gulf identified 40 individual ‘spongers’. As with the eastern gulf dolphins, the majority of spongers were female, sponging in deep channel habitats. But in the eastern gulf there was no observed difference in the number of associates between spongers and non-spongers. Spongers in the eastern gulf foraged more often that deep-water non-spongers and group sizes in deep-water habitat were typically larger, perhaps as a result of differences in prey distribution, or perhaps these larger groups are related to higher predator abundance.

Detailed research such as this, which tracks individuals and their unique behaviours is helping scientist to shine a light on some of the complex and rich social lives of other species, such as these extraordinary tool using dolphins.