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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Dolphins learn to save and invest

Dolphins at a research facility in Mississippi are trained to clean their own tanks by bringing any litter they find to their trainers in exchange for a tasty reward. Sounds cute. The scary part is that not only have dolphins learned to save their litter over time to increase their yield, but they are even reinvesting their fish to bait seagulls into the tank, which they can cash in for even more fish.
Kelly has taken this task one step further. When people drop paper into the water she hides it under a rock at the bottom of the pool. The next time a trainer passes, she goes down to the rock and tears off a piece of paper to give to the trainer. After a fish reward, she goes back down, tears off another piece of paper, gets another fish, and so on. This behaviour is interesting because it shows that Kelly has a sense of the future and delays gratification. She has realised that a big piece of paper gets the same reward as a small piece and so delivers only small pieces to keep the extra food coming. She has, in effect, trained the humans.

Her cunning has not stopped there. One day, when a gull flew into her pool, she grabbed it, waited for the trainers and then gave it to them. It was a large bird and so the trainers gave her lots of fish. This seemed to give Kelly a new idea. The next time she was fed, instead of eating the last fish, she took it to the bottom of the pool and hid it under the rock where she had been hiding the paper. When no trainers were present, she brought the fish to the surface and used it to lure the gulls, which she would catch to get even more fish. After mastering this lucrative strategy, she taught her calf, who taught other calves, and so gull-baiting has become a hot game among the dolphins.
This means that dolphins now have a higher savings rate than the average American family. If Flipper starts getting involved with herring derivatives and interest-only mackerel loans, we'll be in real trouble.

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