Do Dolphins have “Culture?”

Do Dolphins have “Culture?”

We are constantly learning new things about the animals we share the planet with. It’s slow work because, you know, we can’t really just ask them stuff. 

One of the newest discoveries that caught our eye is that primates may not be the only order of animals that have a culture.

Dolphins and fishermen in Laguna, Brazil have been co-hunting fish since the 1980s. This phenomenon is well documented and pretty amazing.

Basically, the dolphins herd the fish to the fishermen, they cast nets effectively thinning out the school, and the dolphins round up the rest. 

Not all of the local dolphins partake, but the ones that do form tight social bonds and spend more time with each other. 

The definition of culture is highly debated, but anthropologists and psychologists agree on two basic criteria: that cultural behavior is socially learned, and that the behavior differentiates between groups.

The Brazilian fishing dolphins’ behavior checks both of those cultural boxes. 

This tag-team fishing alliance isn’t the only instance that suggests cultural tradition among our oceanic friends. 

Other populations of dolphins learn hunting techniques from their mothers and then form cliques with others who use the same techniques. Dolphin cliques. And we thought high school cliques were complex. 

We know dolphins are smart. Wicked smart. But, this new research is cause to change our perceptions of how we study and learn about community and culture in the animal kingdom. 

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