- Typically, the study of culture has been restricted to the human
race. However, an ongoing study of dolphins at The University of
Southern Mississippi has led researchers here to consider one aspect
of culture in nonhumans, the ability to transmit behavior from one
generation to the next.
Miss research was recently featured in the July edition of Wildlife
magazine and detailed studies of dolphin play and cultural transmission.
Dr. Stan Kuczaj, chair of the Southern Miss Department of Psychology,
and his students have observed that young dolphins continually change
their play activities to make them more challenging. According to
Kuczaj, this helps the animals to learn flexible problem-solving
skills, which in turn enables them to more readily adapt to changes
in their environment.
issue now in the study of animal behavior is whether or not animals
have 'culture'. Do they pass information from one generation to
the next?" Kuczaj said. "There's considerable debate about
the extent to which this ability exists in animals."
that Southern Miss research has also shown that dolphin calves are
more likely to learn new behaviors from other calves than from their
mothers or other adults, suggesting that cultural innovations are
initiated and transmitted among young animals. Consequently, cultural
change is more likely to occur within generations than between generations;
specifically, some methods of foraging for food, along with styles
of play, have been observed.
isn't static," he said. "Like fads with humans, it continually
changes." Kuczaj also suggested that dolphin calves and human
children are similar in the extent to which innovations tend to
be driven by interaction with peers.
like human kids, have the ability to engage in flexible problem
solving, and sometimes that emerges from play (with other dolphin
calves)," Kuczaj said. "If we can take that playful joy
and somehow make that part of education, we'd all be a whole lot
Miss research has been conducted at the Marine Life Oceanarium in
doctoral student Robin Paulos of Mt. Desert Island, Maine, said
the concept that dolphins could have their own culture is valid.
"It's all about how you define culture," she said. "As
far as the transmission of behavior is concerned, dolphin culture
doesn't parallel human culture. However, the significance of peers
in both species suggests a common predisposition."
very interesting to watch generations of new calves and to see the
changes over generations," said Paulos, who has been studying
dolphins at Southern Miss since 2001. "There's still much more