London: A new study has found that a blindfolded dolphin can imitate movements of other dolphins, almost as if it has a sixth sense.
According to Dr. Kelly Jaakkola at the non-profit Dolphin Research Center in the Florida Keys, a male bottlenose dolphin named Tanner who was blindfolded with opaque latex goggles was able to detect the movements of its companions.
At a command, another trainer told his dolphin companion Kibby to say ``hello`` by flapping his fins on the water, splashing noisily in the enclosed lagoon at the Dolphin Research Center.
Within seconds, they saw Tanner doing the same. The results indicate the dolphins can somehow ``see`` their environment despite blindfolds, but how?
“Dolphins have this ability to echolocate by sonar, very similar to bats. And so one possibility is he is echolocating on that and he is ``seeing`` the behaviour with sound,” the Daily Mail quoted her as saying.
“However there is another possibility as well. Maybe he`s recognising the characteristic sound of the behaviour, like if I asked you to close your eyes and I clap my hands, you would still be able to imitate that by recognising the characteristic sound.”
The study tested 19 motor and eight vocal behaviours, from waving a fin, to bobbing up and down, to spinning and even giggling.
Jaakkola said the research will help experts understand the animals better to help further their conservation.
Janet Mann, a professor of biology and psychology at Georgetown University, read the study but wasn`t involved in the research and said it`s still unclear if Tanner was echolocating or one of the other dolphins.
“They didn`t localize who was echolocating, so we could not rule out that it was the model and not Tanner,” she said.
She also said the authors didn``t consider so-called ``kinesthetic cues’.
Jaakkola said such study may also be helpful in better grasping the complexities of human intelligence.
“It`s human nature to care more about animals we perceive as intelligent. So the more we can showcase that intelligence we give people a way to connect, to care and therefore conserve,” she said.
The study titled Blindfolded Imitation in a Bottlenose Dolphin is published in the International Journal of Comparative Psychology.