Bottlenose dolphins work together with ‘extreme precision’: Scientists say the marine mammals can almost perfectly synchronise their movements for cooperative tasks

  • In the experiment, bottlenose dolphins had to press a button underwater
  • Scientists found dolphins could synchronise their actions almost perfectly
  • The two mammals were capable of coordinating to press the button within an average of 370 milliseconds of their partner doing the same

New research suggests dolphins are even smarter than first thought and can coordinate their behaviour with one another with ‘extreme precision’.

In a new experiment, bottlenose dolphins had to press an underwater button at the same time as their partner.

Scientists found they could synchronise their actions almost perfectly.

The marine mammals were working so closely they pressed the button within an average of 370 milliseconds of their partner doing the same. 

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Pictured is a triple synchronous dive by a trio of male bottlenose dolphins. New research suggests dolphins are even smarter than first thought and can coordinate their behaviour with one another with ‘extreme precision’

Researchers led by Stephanie King from the University of Western Australia created tasks in which pairs of dolphins had to swim across a lagoon in the Dolphin Research Center in the Florida Keys.

‘Each trial began with both dolphins and their respective trainers located at the opposite side of the lagoon from the buttons, about 11 metres away’, Dr King wrote in an article for The Conversation.

‘The trainers would either both give a “press the button” hand signal at the same time, or one trainer would give the signal first, while the second trainer asked her dolphin to wait up to 20 seconds before giving the signal.’

If the dolphins managed to press the button at the same time, they were rewarded with fish from their trainers as well as social praise. 


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The researchers found that dolphins could work together with ‘extreme precision’ even if they had to wait for their partner, according to the paper published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

The animals also developed new strategies as they learnt how to complete the task, which the animals were given no information about before they started.

‘When one dolphin figured out the game first, if their partner was sent first on a particular trial, they knew that the partner (who had not figured out the game) was not going to wait’, Dr King wrote.

‘So in the early phases, we found that many successes were achieved not by the first dolphin waiting, but by the second dolphin swimming extremely fast to catch up.

‘But once both animals understood the task, this behaviour disappeared and the timing of their button presses became extremely precise (with the time difference between button presses averaging just 370 milliseconds).’

Pictured are two bottlenose dolphins cooperating in a button-pressing task requiring precise behavioural synchronisation. The researchers found that dolphins could work together with ‘extreme precision’ even if they had to wait for their partner

It has long been known that these marine mammals are incredibly smart. 

Last month, it was revealed dolphins could also teach one another to walk on their tails. 

Scientists say a dolphin who learned the complex trick in captivity has now taught the skill to nine of her friends and family since she was released back into the wild.

It marks the only known example of a mammal teaching human tricks to its peers in the wild without any help from a human trainer.

The skill allows dolphins to adapt new behaviours faster than they would through natural selection, potentially giving them the edge over rapid changes to their environment caused by global warming. 

The research comes from experts at the University of Exeter and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation, which is based in Chippenham, Wiltshire. 

WHAT ARE THE MOST INTELLIGENT ANIMALS?  

Animal intelligence is a difficult thing to measure and is ever harder to quantify for scientists.

Animal behaviour experts have studied a wide range of species’ in their natural habitats as well as in captivity to try and gain a deeper understanding of how their intelligence levels compares to that of humans and other species.

Many animals simply have innate behaviours – in-built and instinctive behaviours that require no conscious thought 

However some animals are capable of complex neurological processes that requires conscious thought and problem-solving ability. 

It can be hard to rank these animals but scientists have found several animals that are noticeably more intelligent than others in the animal kingdom.

In no particular order: 

Pigs 

Pigs are surprisingly intelligent animals, with some scientists suggesting they are cleverer than dogs and cats.

They have brilliant long-term memories and find mazes an easy task.

Scientists have even trained them to use joysticks to move a cursor around a computer screen for a reward.

They can also learn tricks — from opening cage doors to jumping through hoops.

Pigs boast an emotional intelligence shared by few other creatures.

They are curious and capable of empathy, with the ability deliberately deceive other pigs and even anticipate needs and intentions.

Dolphins 

One way that scientists measure intelligence is something called the mirror-self recognition test which looks to see if an animal can recognise itself in a mirror. 

This is often done by placing a coloured marker on its body and then showing them a mirror.

If they recognise it as their reflection they will try and remove the coloured item.

Many animals get confused when presented with a mirror and think it is either another animal of their species and either get scared and run off or try and fight it.  

When subjected to this testing the dolphins tried to remove it, indicating they were able to recognise themselves.

Chimps 

Chimpanzees are our closest living relatives and share around 99 per cent of their genetic code with humans. 

A piece of previous research gave a cognitive test to a group of chimps of all ages to measure their mental processing.

The exam involved remembering where a list of numbers – from one to nine – were located on a touch screen monitor and flashed for a split second. 

Adult primates and humans performed to around the same standard but adolescent chimps appeared to have a heightened ability for the cognitive task. 

These young primates remembered each number’s location with great accuracy, leading the researchers to think they posses a form of photographic memory.  

Elephants  

Elephants are the largest terrestrial animal in the world and have some of the largest and most complex brains as well. 

The giants can spend their entire lives in large matriarchal groups and develop deep emotional relationships with one another. 

They are capable to living for several decades and live way beyond their reproductive age. 

These older females are no longer able to conceive or give birth yet still help in the raising of the youngsters. 

The mere presence of post-reproductive lifespan is important as it says they no longer follow the primal desire to reproduce all the time.

They are able to recognise that by aiding the survival of the group’s young, they are also optimising their own reproductive success as their own genetic information passes down successfully to more generations.

Another study into the animal also found that they may be able to understand languages spoken by humans. 

Octopus  

An octopus is one of the most intelligent animals in the animal kingdom, a remarkable feat for an invertebrate. 

In scientific research that requires animal subjects, an additional form is often required if it includes vertebrates – often the only exception id the octopus due to its heightened intelligence. 

Most marine invertebrates have very little in the way of cognitive ability but the eight-tentacle beast has incredible mental processing ability. 

In a previous piece of research, scientists looked to see if they would be able to tell apart two different people. 

Two individuals interacted with a mature octopus, with one acting extremely friendly and another being cold and standoffish. 

When the two people entered their living area, the octopus would ignore the impersonal one in favour of the more friendly guest.

Intelligence is just one of the fantastic traits that differentiates them from other animals.

Part of the cephelapod class, they have three hearts and it is also speculated they can detect ultrasound waves n a similar way to bats and use this to survivearound underground volcanoes and flee before an eruption occurs. 

Their lack of a skeleton is also put to good use as they can fit through tiny gaps and chnage shape with ease. 

They have chromataphores in their skin which can change colour as camouflage and they can contract the surface of their skin to change texture – another form of camouflage which is useful when blending in with both sea bed and coral reef. 

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