Keys Study Says Dolphins Able to Imitate

Annoying kids' habit also able to be performed by Flipper, apparently

According to the folks at the Dolphin Research Center in the Florida Keys, the ability to imitate at all is extremely rare in animals, but they're learning dolphins are having no problem with it.

"Tanner, can you imitate Kibby?" says dolphin trainer Emily Guarino, as she places suction cup blindfolds on the Bottlenose dolphin. She signals to companion dolphin Kibby to preform a trick. In an instant Tanner imitates the trick.  Tanner repeats the feat mirroring the actions of Kibby.

"Only humans and dolphins have been show to be proficient at imitation," said Dr. Kelly Jaakkola, with the research center.

Dr. Jaakkola's article, "Blindfolded Imitation in a Bottlenose Dolphin," has just been published in the International Journal of Comparative Psychology.

Just how Tanner and other Dolphins pull off the imitations is still being researched.

"It could be he is using echo location in his biological sonar to see the behavior with sound, or he could be using characteristic sound of the behavior," said Jaakkola, who is the Dolphin Research Center's Director of Research.

The unique behavior also indicates that dolphins can problem solve. Tanner apparently resorted to back-up systems when his eyes were covered with soft rubber cups. 

Tanner pulled off 19 different and documented imitations in his large lagoon enclosure on the Gulf side of the Florida Keys just east of Marathon. 

"We are trying to map the mind of the dolphin," said Jaakkola, "to see where it is similar to the human brain and where it is not."

Follow Hank Tester on Twitter @wtvjreporter.

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