Scientists used to believe that the higher primates were the only animals smart enough to use tools. Now researchers at Georgetown have found a group of dolphins that hunt with sponges, positioning them over their snouts and using them to filter the seabed for food.
The animals live off the western coast of Australia, and their limited numbers allowed scientists to track individual dolphins as they passed the skill from parent to child. The scientists soon discovered that, almost without exception, tool use is a female phenomenon that’s passed from mother to daughter. (Male dolphins don’t spend enough time with their parents to pick up the trick.) The researchers also found that dolphins that do learn to use the sponges spend a good fifth of their waking hours combing the ocean floor in search of fish — suggesting that we’re not the only species in thrall to its labor-saving inventions.
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