WILD dolphins have learned how to walk on water by copying tricks developed by captive animals, a study found.
Dolphins in Adelaide have learned tail-walking—when the animal rises vertically out of the water and moves forward or backwards across it—from a dolphin called Billie which had spent time in a dolphinarium.
Dolphins rarely do this in the wild but it is a standard part of the routine in almost all dolphinaria.
Contrary to claims by activists that captive animals are unhappy being taught tricks the intelligent mammals incorporated the tail-walking trick into their “natural” behavior in the open sea.
Billie learned tail-walking by observing the performing dolphins and, when released, began performing the trick regularly in the wild. The behavior then faded away after a number of years, with the most prolific tail-walker dying in 2014.
The study was led by Whale and Dolphin Conservation with the Universities of St Andrews and Exeter.
Dr Mike Bossley, of Whale and Dolphin Conservation said it was only because he had been studying the Adelaide dolphins for more than 30 years that the significance of tail-walking was recognized.
He said: “I knew Billie’s history and was able to track her behavior and that of the other dolphins in the community over an extended period. This enabled me to observe tail-walking spread through the community and then its eventual fade away.”
Researchers said that if Billie was the only dolphin to perform the trick it would have been nothing more than an interesting example of individual social learning.
However, after she returned to the wild, other dolphins in the local community soon began performing the behavior.
Early findings from the study were reported in 2008 – but at that time it was suggested that it was confined to just a small group. By 2011, nine dolphins had been observed tail-walking in the wild but after that it slowly died out.