The Creative Dolphin: What Dolphins Do When Asked to Vary Their Behavior

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YouTube Link:

Team Members:

Holli Eskelinen, Dolphins Plus
Stan A. Kuczaj, University of Southern Mississippi


The variability of dolphin behavior is evident in their communication, foraging, and play. Dolphins can also vary their behavior when asked to do so by humans. Following the work of Karen Pryor and her colleagues, this ability is commonly referred to as creative behavior, a bit of a misnomer since dolphins need not always create a new behavior to succeed on this task. Nonetheless, when given a task in which success depends on not repeating what one has already done, dolphins are able to remember what they have done and successfully produce a new behavior, sometimes even a completely novel one. In this paper, we report similarities and differences in the performance of three bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) given such a task, the results highlighting the need for continued investigation of individual differences in cognitive style and performance.

Original Publication: 

Kuczaj, S.A. and Eskelinen, H.C. 2014. The "Creative Dolphin" Revisited: What Dolphins Do When Asked to Vary their Behavior? Animal Behavior and Cognition 1:66-76. DOI: 0.12966/abc.02.05.2014

Link to Publication:

By the Numbers

Over 40,000 students in 50 US states, the US Virgin Islands, and 25 countries participated as judges in the 2016 Ocean 180 Video Challenge.