Even blindfolded, dolphins are masters of imitation

Even blindfolded, a 7-year-old bottlenose dolphin named Tanner was able to mimic another dolphin’s behavior — proof, according to Florida researchers, that dolphins are masters of imitation second only to humans.

When his sight was blocked, Tanner used other senses to figure out what the other dolphin was doing and copy it, the researchers at the Dolphin Research Center in the Florida Keys said in a study published in the International Journal of Comparative Psychology.

Researchers at the non-profit center hope to conduct further studies to “map the dolphin mind” in order to learn more about the evolution of human cognition.

“Looking at an animal (which is) so far removed from us and yet shares some cognitive abilities, tells us something about us,” said Dr. Kelly Jaakkola, the center’s research director.

The ability to imitate is rare in animals. Primates such chimpanzees can sometimes do it but only humans and dolphins are proficient, said Jaakkola, one of the study’s authors.

“Most people think, ‘Monkey see, monkey do.’ It’s a complete myth. Dolphins are really good at it. Aside from humans, they’re the best at it,” Jaakkola said on Thursday.

Like other dolphins at the center, Tanner had already been trained to do a list of tricks such as sinking underwater and blowing bubbles, retrieving an object from the lagoon, making a noise like a seagull, and rising and offering a fin to “shake hands” with a person kneeling on the dock.

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