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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

Rep. Rice demands Cuomo resign after 3rd woman accuses him of misconduct

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo during a February news conference in New York City. Photo: Seth Wenig/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) on Monday evening called for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to resign, after a third woman accused him of inappropriate behavior.

Driving the news: Anna Ruch, a former member of the Obama administration and the 2020 Biden campaign, told the New York Times Monday that Cuomo asked to kiss her at a New York City wedding reception in September 2019.

Scoop: Inside the GOP's plan to retake the House

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty Images

House Republicans will reclaim their majority in 2022 by offering candidates who are women, minorities or veterans, a memo obtained by Axios says.

Why it matters: The document, drafted by a super PAC blessed by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, names top Democrats to target — Jared Golden of Maine, Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania and Ron Kind of Wisconsin — and the type of Republican candidates to beat them.

4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Trump talked out of early Ohio endorsement

Jane Timken at a 2017 Trump rally. Photo: Kyle Mazza/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Donald Trump had to be talked out of making an early endorsement in Ohio's 2022 U.S. Senate race, a sign of his eagerness to reengage politically, people familiar with the conversations tell Axios.

What we're hearing: The former president discussed endorsing former state GOP chair Jane Timken last week during a meeting at Mar-a-Lago with RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, but top advisers — including Donald Trump Jr. — urged him to wait.