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Saturday, April 21, 2007

Science - Nor Beauty Nor Grace Nor Intelligence Will Save Them

Atlantic white-sided dolphins

Because we, carcinoma sapiens, don't value any other living thing enough to consider its needs - not even members of our own species.
At the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Mississippi, Kelly the dolphin has built up quite a reputation. All the dolphins at the institute are trained to hold onto any litter that falls into their pools until they see a trainer, when they can trade the litter for fish. In this way, the dolphins help to keep their pools clean.

Kelly has taken this task one step further. When people drop paper into the water she hides it under a rock at the bottom of the pool. The next time a trainer passes, she goes down to the rock and tears off a piece of paper to give to the trainer. After a fish reward, she goes back down, tears off another piece of paper, gets another fish, and so on. This behaviour is interesting because it shows that Kelly has a sense of the future and delays gratification. She has realised that a big piece of paper gets the same reward as a small piece and so delivers only small pieces to keep the extra food coming. She has, in effect, trained the humans.
Who is the trainer, who the trained?

Already, the Yangtze river dolphin is gone forever. How soon before other river dolphins are wiped out by the greed and low cunning of the deadly humans with whom they must share the planet? I wish Douglas Adams were right, and they really would all return to their home planet with a "So long, and thanks for all the fish," but I fear that is just wishful thinking.

The Guardian discusses scientists' latest estimation of dolphin intelligence here.


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