[MARMAM] Doctoral Dissertation on development of social cognition in wild Atlantic spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis)

Courtney Bender courtbender at yahoo.com
Wed Jan 16 04:24:46 PST 2013

I would like to announce that a PDF copy of my doctoral dissertation on social play as a tool for developing social-cognitive skills in a population of Atlantic spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis) is now available. If you would like a copy please feel free to contact me, Courtney Bender, at courtbender at yahoo.com or Denise Herzing at the Wild Dolphin Project, wdpdenise at wilddolphinproject.org.

Thank you!
Courtney E. Bender

Bender, C. E. 2012. Social play as a tool for developing social-cognitive skills in a population of Atlantic spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis)  Doctoral Dissertation. Integrative Biology, Florida Atlantic University. 143pp.

The purposes of this dissertation were to identify complex social-cognitive
behaviors in a population of wild Atlantic spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis) using
long-term video archives and identify developmental trends in those behaviors.
Chapter One analyzed calf behavior during foraging events involving maternal
teaching in order to identify mechanisms for sharing information between mother and
calf. There was no significant difference between behaviors attending to mother and prey,
and calves were observed attending to both within the same event with triadic referencing
between mother and prey. The calves were observed performing referencing gestures in
the direction of the prey within the first year of life. When the mothers performed
referencing gestures, calves interacted with significantly more behaviors, including
significantly more referencing gestures themselves. The calves’ behavior was affected by
the referencing cues, supporting the presence of joint attention and true teaching

Chapter Two observed the altered benthic foraging behavior of juvenile play
groups, in which individual juveniles took turns chasing the fish and using referencing
gestures to reference the position of the fish to other individuals during the chase, despite
the ability of these young, independent dolphins to catch fish much more quickly and
efficiently alone. Benthic foraging behavior by juvenile-only groups appeared more like
cooperative play and was significantly different from the typical benthic foraging
behavior of individual juveniles foraging alone, groups of adults foraging together, or
juveniles foraging with adults.

The third chapter analyzed social object play in which dolphins passed pieces of
seaweed between individuals. The data clarified developmental trends in the play, and
suggested social-cognitive abilities needed for participation. Play became more complex
with age as adult dolphins showed significantly more participating play behaviors and
parts of the body used during play, and significantly longer time in possession of the
seaweed than calves. Additionally, the dolphins appeared to use a signal to request the
dolphin in possession of the seaweed to pass it. Individuals that used the signal received
significantly more passes. Furthermore, every individual that was in possession of the
seaweed when signaled by another subsequently released the seaweed.
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