Mike Williamson (
Sat, 19 Jul 1997 12:06:04 -0400 (EDT)

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, 18 Jul 1997 12:18:04 +1200
From: Terry Hardie <>
Reply-To: Marine Mammals Research and Conservation Discussion

17-Jul-97 12:00 pm Regular  International


   (eds: embargoed until noon thursday july 17)
   By John von Radowitz of The Press Association
   London, July 17 PA - Dolphins have been seen for the first time
using tools to find food and defend themselves, researchers believe.
   US scientists studying bottle-nosed dolphins in Shark Bay,
Western Australia, observed five females carrying sponges on the
tips of their snouts as they searched for food on the seabed.
   They appeared to use them as protection against the spines and
stings of animals like stonefish and stingrays -- and also to rake
up prey.
   The discovery was made by Dr Rachel Smolker from Michigan
University in Ann Arbor, one of the world's leading DOLPHIN experts.
   Her observations, published in the journal Ethology and reported
in New Scientist magazine today, are thought to be the first
evidence of practical use of tools by dolphins in the wild.
   Mark Simmonds, marine scientist at the wHALE and dOLPHIN
Conservation Society in Bath, said: ``Rachel Smolker is one of the
great DOLPHIN researchers. I think her discovery is extremely
   ``Dolphins are a very different kind of animal to ourselves and
the primates in that they don't have hands, but that doesn't mean
they can't manipulate objects.''
   He said young dolphins had frequently been seen playing with bits
of floating seaweed, plastic or netting.
   In captivity, dolphins could be taught to balance objects on
their noses, push buttons and pull levers.
   ``We have been running a study around Cornwall and Devon over the
last four years and have seen them pulling anchor chains,'' said
Simmonds. ``Obviously they can manipulate things. It's not
surprising at all to hear that they use tools.
   ``The important point is that a group of dolphins were seen,
obviously it's not play behaviour, and it seems to be serving some
useful purpose.''
   He said dolphins had been filmed playfully manipulating air
bubbles in the same way as a smoker blows smoke rings.
   They would lie on the seabed, blow a ring-shaped bubble, and then
blow a second bubble through the middle of the first.
   The problem with studying DOLPHIN behaviour was that they were
usually only observed on or near the surface of the sea, said
   He added: ``We can't see what they are doing a lot of the time.
For all we know they might be down there stacking shelves and
playing chess.''

PA ks