How intelligent are dolphins

Friends for life - dolphins are a lot smarter and more social than you might think

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Dolphins are smart - it is well known. But now research has discovered even more about the complex coexistence of marine mammals.

At the westernmost point of Australia there is a sheltered sea bay called Shark Bay, the Shark Bay. Contrary to what the name suggests, this place is a paradise for dolphins - and Michael Krützen's object of study.

He is Professor of Anthropology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Zurich: “The exciting thing about Shark Bay is that neither males nor females show any tendency to migrate. You stay here from birth and we can accompany you for a lifetime. "

friends for life

Hundreds, even thousands of dolphins cavort in the clear blue waters of Shark Bay. Michael Krützen and his team have now carefully examined a small group of 17 male dolphins. They already knew from previous studies that male dolphins can become very close friends.

But not only that: “We know that these friendships develop very early, they develop, so to speak, in childhood. It's very exciting, you can really call them 'friends for life'. "

This is especially important in one situation: when mating. Two or three closely friendly male dolphins team up, kidnap the female and then mate her one after the other.

What sounds like a dolphin rape is vital for the animals: Dolphins reproduce very slowly - so there is great competition for the female dolphins who are ready to mate.

Dolphins have unmistakable "voices"

Close friendships such as those with dolphins also occur with birds, monkeys and elephants. Normally, according to Michael Krützen, animals then adjust their reputation to one another.

With the Australian dolphins, on the other hand, it is different: "Their calls and whistles do not align, they remain unmistakable like names."

This name consists of a very individual melody that a dolphin whistles in such high tones that the human ear can barely perceive it. The scientists therefore used special underwater microphones for the recording. But why do dolphins have this peculiarity that their reputation does not match that of their closest friends?

Friends in need

Michael Krützen has an assumption: «Dolphins work together like humans. It has already happened that some kind of reinforcement came for a group, we call it: 'The cavalry comes in'. And they were called by the males. Of course, it is important for those who come to know who is calling them. "

In an emergency, dolphins can, so to speak, call in friends of friends to reinforce them - from an enormous number of other dolphins that swim around in the Australian bay.

“That is why we believe that it is very important for the dolphins in Shark Bay to keep their own names, their own whistles, because the social structure is so complex. A name of your own is just as helpful here as it is with people, ”says Krützen. So dolphins live together in a much more complex way than previously thought.

Broadcast: Radio SRF 2 Kultur, Kultur-Aktuell, 8.6.2018, 6.50 a.m.

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