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A dolphin shelling. Photo: Sonja Wild/Dolphin Innovation Project

Dolphins can learn from other unrelated dolphins about how to use empty shells to trap prey, according to new research.

The big picture: Learning from others is one way to transmit information that drives the evolution of cultures. The behavior is largely observed in primates, including us humans.

  • The study, published today in the journal Current Biology, "sets an important milestone and suggests that the cultural natures of Great Apes and dolphins are similar ... despite having divergent evolutionary pathways and occupying markedly disparate environments," the authors write.

What they did: Sonja Wild, now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Konstanz in Germany, and her colleagues observed dolphins thousands of times in Western Australia's Shark Bay.

  • In 42 instances they spotted 19 different dolphins chasing fish into empty shells, carrying them to the surface with their beak and shaking the fish into their mouth.
  • The shelling behavior lasts just a few seconds and is rarely observed.
  • The researchers then analyzed the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins' social group, factoring in their genetic relationships (the dolphins came from three different lineages) and controlling for environmental influences, and found about 57% of the dolphins learned shelling socially from their peers.
  • (That means 43% learned the skill on their own but Wild says given the limited number of times individuals have been seen, it may be that the researchers missed some social connections among the dolphins who were shellers.) 

Yes, but: Some dolphins may learn shelling from their mother or on their own, Janet Mann, a researcher at Georgetown University who wasn’t involved in the study, told the NYT.

Why it matters: Learning within generations allows a rapid spread of novel behaviors that may help to cope with new conditions, says Wild.

  • "It has therefore been suggested that species with the capacity to learn socially from peers may be more likely to persist in a changing environment, including changes associated with global warming."

Go deeper

Former Sen. David Perdue to launch bid for Georgia governor

Photo: Megan Varner/Getty Images

Former Senator David Perdue (R) plans to announce a campaign against Georgia's incumbent Republican Gov. Brian Kemp Monday, according to a source familiar with Perdue's thinking.

Why it matters: Perdue's challenge to his former ally Kemp sets up an unprecedented "scorched earth" battle between Georgia Republicans fueled by former President Donald Trump, in the battleground state. The news was first reported by Politico.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Bipartisan tributes flood in for "giant of the Senate" Bob Dole

Then-Vice President Joe Biden and former Sen. Bob Dole at an event put on by the World Food Program where he was awarded the first “McGovern-Dole Leadership Award” in December 2013. Photo: Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call

Republican and Democratic politicians, including former Senate colleagues, are sharing condolences and memories commemorating the life of Bob Dole, who passed away at 98 on Sunday morning.

The big picture: Dole, the Republican presidential nominee in 1996, was the longest serving Republican leader in the Senate until 2018, when current Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell surpassed his record.

Former Sen. Bob Dole dies

Former Sen. Bob Dole in 2019. Photo: Tom Brenner/Getty Images

Former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole passed away Sunday morning at the age of 98, the Elizabeth Dole Foundation announced in a statement.

Driving the news: Dole, a revered figure in U.S. politics and the Republican presidential nominee in 1996, served in the Senate for 27 years, including 11 years as GOP leader. Earlier this year he revealed he had been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.