Tag Archives | animal intelligence

Dolphin Translator Relays First Word

dolphinsCan we handle what dolphins have to tell us? CNET News reports:

Scientists at the Wild Dolphin Project (WDP) who have been developing a dolphin translator may have succeeded in getting their software to work.

WDP director Denise Herzing was swimming in the Caribbean with a pod of dolphins she has been tracking for 25 years, wearing a prototype of a dolphin translator called Cetacean Hearing and Telemetry (CHAT), developed by the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Thad Starner, when one of the dolphin’s whistles was translated as the word “sargassum” — a type of seaweed.

Humans have for some time been communicating with dolphins on a rudimentary level. The animals are capable of responding appropriately to commands and learning to recognise symbols.

The whistle picked up by CHAT, translated into human speech, was not a whistle from the dolphins’ natural repertoire. Instead, Herzing and her team invented a series of whistles and ascribed them to certain things — one of which was sargassum — and trained the dolphins to repeat the whistles when they encountered those things.

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Do Dolphins And Humans Share A Special Bond?

dolphinAre the dolphins trying to tell us something, if we would only listen? Via Aeon Magazine, Justin Gregg ponders:

The science makes one fact undeniably clear: wild dolphins of some species are noted for seeking out social encounters with humans. The phenomenon of lone sociable dolphins — for whom human contact appears to substitute for the company of their own kind — is documented extensively in the scientific literature. Among the better-known examples are Pita from Belize, Davina from England, Filippo from Italy, Tião from Brazil, and JoJo from Turks and Caicos.’

But should this kind of social contact also be considered friendly? There, the record is more ambiguous. Of the 29 well-studied dolphins just mentioned, 13 of them exhibited ‘misdirected sexual behaviour’. A number of these dolphins made a habit of abducting people — dragging them out to sea, preventing them from returning to shore, even pinning them to the seabed.

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Chimps Easily Beat Humans In Complex Numeric Memory Tests

chimpsVia the Guardian, powerful mental abilities we ironically have lost through evolution:

In a landmark test of short-term memory conducted in public in 2007, the young chimp Ayumu demonstrated astonishing powers of recall, easily beating his human competitors, who had been in training for months.

“We’ve concluded through the cognitive tests that chimps have extraordinary memories,” Matsuzawa says. “They can grasp things at a glance. As a human, you will never be a match.”

Why do the latter have such vastly superior working memories? As humans evolved and acquired new skills – notably the ability to use language to communicate and collaborate –they lost others they once shared with their common simian ancestors.

The institute’s researchers are trying to find how far Ayumu can go before he falters. In the most recent tests, the number of digits [shown for a split second] has been increased from 1-9 to 1-19.

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India To Recognize Dolphins As “Non-Human Persons”

non-human persons

Are we moving beyond the human/animal binary? Via Environment News Service:

India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests has decided to forbid the keeping of captive dolphins for public entertainment anywhere in the country. In a policy statement released Friday, the ministry said:

“[Their] unusually high intelligence as compared to other animals means that dolphin should be seen as ‘non-human persons’ and as such should have their own specific rights and is morally unacceptable to keep them captive for entertainment purpose.”

The grassroots Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organization, FIAPO, was pleased with the decision. FIAPO spokesperson Puja Mitra called the decision “a huge victory for the dolphins!”

Ric O’Barry, director of the U.S.-based Earth Island Institute’s Dolphin Project, said, “Not only has the Indian government spoken out against cruelty, they have contributed to an emerging and vital dialogue about the ways we think about dolphins – as thinking, feeling beings.”

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Accepting Alternate Forms Of Intelligence In The Animal Kingdom

Our inability to perceive animal intelligence revealed the limits of our own. Via the Wall Street Journal, Frans de Waal writes:

Who is smarter: a person or an ape? Well, it depends on the task. Consider Ayumu, a young male chimpanzee at Kyoto University who, in a 2007 study, put human memory to shame. Trained on a touch screen, Ayumu could recall a random series of nine numbers, from 1 to 9, and tap them in the right order, even though the numbers had been displayed for just a fraction of a second and then replaced with white squares.

I tried the task myself and could not keep track of more than five numbers—and I was given much more time than the brainy ape. In the study, Ayumu outperformed a group of university students by a wide margin. The next year, he took on the British memory champion Ben Pridmore and emerged the “chimpion.”

A growing body of evidence shows, that we have grossly underestimated both the scope and the scale of animal intelligence.

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Wild Dolphins Give Treasured Gifts To Humans

A peace offering from our aquatic brethren? Discovery reports:

On 23 occasions over the past several years, wild dolphins were observed giving gifts to humans at the Tangalooma Island Resort in Australia. The gifts included eels, tuna, squid, an octopus and an assortment of many other types of different fin fish. While these gifts might not be your choice for Christmas, some of the items that were offered to humans are highly valued food sources for cetaceans such as dolphins.

The wild dolphins that were observed giving gifts to human in Australia were regular visitors to a provisioning program at the Tangalooma Island Resort. Dolphins of diverse ages and both sexes engaged in the gift-giving behavior, and scientists are not entirely sure of what is motivating their behavior.

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Researchers Discover The Four Personality Types Of Elephants

Animals have distinct personality types, the Telegraph reveals

In a new study of African elephants, researchers have identified four distinct characters that are prevalent with a herd – the leaders, the gentle giants, the playful rogues and the reliable plodders. Each of the types has developed to help the giant mammals survive in their harsh environment and are almost unique in the animal kingdom, according to the scientists.

Professor Lee and her colleague Cynthia Moss studied a herd of elephants in the Amboseli National Park in Kenya known as the EB family – famous for their matriarch Echo before she died in 2009. Using data collected over 38 years of watching this group, the researchers analysed them for 26 types of behaviour and found four personality traits tended to come to the fore.

The strongest personality to emerge was that of the leader. The researchers looked for those elephants that tended to influence the movements and direction of the group.

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Crows Are Capable Of Human-Style Reasoning

Today, this news, tomorrow, a bird parliament. Crows living in a controlled environment have shown that they possess a sophisticated form of reasoning believed to be a hallmark of humanity alone, Wired writes:

A type of sophisticated thinking known as “causal reasoning” [is] inferring that mechanisms you can’t see may be responsible for something. But humans aren’t alone in this ability: New Caledonian crows can also reason about hidden mechanisms, or “causal agents,” a team of scientists report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It’s the first time that this cognitive ability has been experimentally demonstrated in a species other than humans.

The tests show that the crows are “capable of causal reasoning,” Taylor says. “We expected the crows to initially be scared of the moving stick. Instead, they only became scared when they could not attribute the movement to a hidden human—which suggests the crows were reasoning that the stick’s movement was caused by that human.” The crows, he says, apparently don’t expect an inanimate object to move on its own.

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Chimp ‘Secret Handshakes’ May Be Cultural

Isn’t culture supposed to be what separates us from the animals? Now what does humanity have that sets us apart, just toilets and puns? Live Science writes:

These chimp handshakes, which are seen only among some of the primates, seem to differ from group to group in ways that aren’t dependent on genetics or environment. That leaves cultural differences between groups as a possible explanation.

This behavior was first seen in a group of chimps in Tanzania, and has been observed in at least 15 other groups as well. The fact that the behavior is long-lasting and appears to be passed down through generations suggests that the handshakes may be a rudimentary form of culture.

Two groups [observed over several years] were big into hand-clasping, but there were differences. Group 1 almost always grasped their hands palm-to-palm, while Group 2 hooked their wrists around each other instead. The researchers have also observed young chimpanzees learning the hand clasps from their elders.

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Dolphins Address One Another By Name

p125228-Cozumel-Our_dolphin_friendsTheir names, however, are whistle patterns. New Scientist reports:

Stephanie King of the University of St Andrews, UK, and colleagues monitored 179 pairs of wild bottlenose dolphins off the Florida coast between 1988 and 2004. Of these, 10 were seen copying each other’s signature whistles, which the dolphins make to identify themselves to each other.

The behavior has never been documented before, and was only seen in pairs composed of a mother and her calf or adults who would normally move around and hunt together.

The copied whistles changed frequency in the same way as real signature whistles, but either started from a higher frequency or didn’t last as long, suggesting Dave was not merely imitating Alan.

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