Now, scientists have discovered just how these dolphins learn to catch their prey in this extraordinary way — using their beaks to bring the shells to the surface and then shake the fish into their mouths — similar to how we humans get at those last few chips at the bottom of a packet.
“Our study shows that the foraging behavior ‘shelling’ — where dolphins trap fish inside empty seashells — spreads through social learning among close associates,” said Sonja Wild, who conducted this research for her doctorate at the University of Leeds.
“This is surprising, as dolphins and other toothed whales tend to follow a ‘do-as-mother-does’ strategy for learning foraging behavior,” she said in a press statement. Dolphin mothers and calves typically form very tight bonds, staying close to one another for at least two years learning social behaviors and feeding techniques.
The findings provided more evidence of similarities between dolphins and great apes — chimpanzees, gorillas and humans — who have also shown a range of socially learned foraging behavior, the study, which published Thursday in Current Biology, said.