Category Archives: DIP

17 Jun 2015 – The 2015 field season kicks off in Shark Bay!


The 2015 field season, with researchers Sam Wittwer and Teresa Borcuch on the Monkey Mia side (Dolphin Alliance Project) and Livia Gerber and Sonja Wild on the Useless Loop side (Dolphin Innovation Project), has been successfully kicked off.

Both teams (including PhD students, Masters students and volunteers from four different countries) will stay in the field until mid-October, collecting photo-identification, behavioural and genetic data. They’ll see oh-so-many dolphins, fascinating foraging and complex cooperation and competition… not to mention flying fish, sharks, rays, dugongs, turtles, birds, sea snakes, sun rises, sunsets and so on.

Interested in joining as a volunteer in future years? If so, please contact Michael, Richard or Simon.

Apr 2014 – Another publication in Proceedings of the Royal Society B

WSBDolphin Fajita with sponge 2

We are very pleased to announce the publication of “Cultural transmission of tool use by Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops sp.) provides access to a novel foraging niche” in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Authors: Michael Krützen, Sina Kreicker, Colin D. MacLeod, Jennifer Learmonth, Anna M. Kopps, Pamela Walsham, and Simon J. Allen

Abstract: Culturally transmitted tool use has important ecological and evolutionary consequences and has been proposed as a significant driver of human evolution. Such evidence is still scarce in other animals. In cetaceans, tool use has been inferred using indirect evidence in one population of Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops sp.), where particular dolphins (‘spongers’) use marine sponges during foraging. To date, evidence of whether this foraging tactic actually provides access to novel food items is lacking. We used fatty acid (FA) signature analysis to identify dietary differences between spongers and non-spongers, analysing data from 11 spongers and 27 non-spongers from two different study sites. Both univariate and multivariate analyses revealed significant differences in FA profiles between spongers and non-spongers between and within study sites. Moreover, FA profiles differed significantly between spongers and non-spongers foraging within the same deep channel habitat, whereas the profiles of non-spongers from deep channel and shallow habitats at this site could not be distinguished. Our results indicate that sponge use by bottlenose dolphins is linked to significant differences in diet. It appears that cultural transmission of tool use in dolphins, as in humans, allows the exploitation of an otherwise unused niche.

Krützen M, Kreicker S, MacLeod CD, Learmonth J, Kopps AM, Walsham P, Allen SJ. 2014 Cultural transmission of tool use by Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops sp.) provides access to a novel foraging niche. Proc. R. Soc. B 281: 20140374.

Feb 2014 – New publication in Proceedings of the Royal Society B

WSBDolphin Liesa with#25305662

We are pleased to announce the publication of the new paper “Cultural transmission of tool use combined with habitat specialisations leads to fine-scale genetic structure in bottlenose dolphins” in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Authors: Anna M. Kopps, Corinne Y. Ackermann, William B. Sherwin, Simon J. Allen, Lars Bejder and Michael Krützen

Abstract: Socially learned behaviours leading to genetic population structure have rarely been described outside humans. Here, we provide evidence of fine-scale genetic structure that has probably arisen based on socially transmitted behaviours in bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops sp.) in western Shark Bay, Western Australia. We argue that vertical social transmission in different habitats has led to significant geographical genetic structure of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) haplotypes. Dolphins with mtDNA haplotypes E or F are found predominantly in deep (more than 10 m) channel habitat, while dolphins with a third haplotype (H) are found predominantly in shallow habitat (less than 10 m), indicating a strong haplotype–habitat correlation. Some dolphins in the deep habitat engage in a foraging strategy using tools. These ‘sponging’ dolphins are members of one matriline, carrying haplotype E. This pattern is consistent with what had been demonstrated previously at another research site in Shark Bay, where vertical social transmission of sponging had been shown using multiple lines of evidence. Using an individual-based model, we found support that in western Shark Bay, socially transmitted specialisations may have led to the observed genetic structure. The reported genetic structure appears to present an example of cultural hitchhiking of mtDNA haplotypes on socially transmitted foraging strategies, suggesting that, as in humans, genetic structure can be shaped through cultural transmission.

Kopps AM, Ackermann CY, Sherwin WB, Allen SJ, Bejder L, Krützen M. 2014 Cultural transmission of tool use combined with habitat specialisations leads to fine-scale genetic structure in bottlenose dolphins. Proc. R. Soc. B 281: 20133245.