Skip to main content

Dolphins Learn Smart Tricks

3 min read

There is an unbelievable development at the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Mississippi. Their dolphins learn smart tricks, all thanks to one named Kelly, who revolutionized a strategy that allows the dolphins to get more food.

The Story

Kelly is one of the dolphins held at the institute. Together with all the other dolphins, Kelly is trained to hold onto any litter that falls into her pool until the trainer arrives. The trainer then trades the litter for fish thus preserving the cleanliness of the pool.

What the institute found to be amusing was how Kelly had taken some decisions to up the game. When people throw paper into the water, Kelly swims to the paper, and hides it under a rock at the deepest part of the pool. When the trainer arrives, she’ll dive in to the paper’s hiding place and tears it — the other half for keeping, and the other to give to the trainer. She’d get a fish reward for it, and then swims back down, divides the paper again for more fish. This repeats until Kelly can no longer tear the paper.

The trainers found this behavior interesting because Kelly showed a sense of planning for the future, and delayed gratification. She realized that the trainer doesn’t judge the reward based on the size of the paper, so she opted to try delivering short pieces to get more food. So, in a sense, the humans were the one Kelly trained.

But this success didn’t stop Kelly. (Oh no, she’s just starting. I’m telling you!)

One day, a gull flew to the pool. Kelly grabbed it, and then waited for the trainers for her reward. The trainers gave her more fish than usual because it was a bird we’re talking about here. So realizing the increase in food reward, Kelly had a new idea. The next time she was fed out of routine, she had left the last fish and took it to the bottom of the pool to her rock-hiding place. When the trainers left, she brought the fish up to the pool’s surface and lured the freaking gulls! She caught them and Kelly got more fish.

Kelly soon mastered this strategy and taught it to her peers, and gull-baiting has become a business for those smart-ass dolphins.

Dolphinarium, dolphins show in Lisbon Zoo (Portugal)
Dolphinarium, dolphins show in Lisbon Zoo (Portugal)

The Science

We always had different interpretations on what intelligence is. But we love labeling things that we even tried to measure the intelligence of animals even if we don’t know how to measure the intelligence that we possess.

Often, large brains are attributed to greater intelligence. The bigger your brain is, the smarter you are. Noting this fact, the brain of an average adult bottlenose dolphin is around 25% heavier than the average adult human brain. It is also important, however, that mammals in general have larger brains and this relates to the size of their bodies (or called the encephalisation quotient). Either way, the average dolphin EQ is 5.31, and compared to other mammals (gorillas – 1.76, chimpanzees – 2.48, and humans 7.4), dolphins are pretty up high in the hierarchy.

This could lead us to a general idea of how smart dolphins really are!

In fact, some species have invented a myriad of feeding strategies that adapt to the diversity of their habitat. For example, in Brazil, tucuxi dolphins use tale-whacking strategies where fishes are flicked up to nine meters using dolphin tail flukes. This stuns the fishes to the surface where dolphins can easily eat them. Other examples include Paele’s dolphins in the Straits of Magellan use seaweeds to disguise their approach and cut off fish escape routes using kelp. Some female dolphins in Texas even follow shrimp boats where they swim through the nets and take the fish caught inside them, mastering the skill of avoiding entanglement.

Dolphins come up with more smart strategies to get more food, and they invent more as they adapt to certain situations, proving that the dolphins are just too smart for ball-exhibitions or synchronized swimming. Maybe they could rival the human race in the future steps of evolution! Who knows.




Rudolph is a learner. He loves to read tons of stuff, from nutrition facts to novels. Currently, he helps people get unstuck with their homework as a Junior Market Specialist at Brainly. He also loves burgers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *