FACTORS AFFECTING THE ABILITY OF BOTTLENOSE DOLPHINS (TURSIOPS TRUNCATUS) TO INTERPRET HUMAN-GIVEN SOCIAL CUES

Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncates) have been shown to use human-given social cues in an object-choice task that used two dolphins of the same age. Therefore, I studied the influence of age and personality on dolphins’ understanding of human given social cues. Five Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins, aged two to thirty-three years, were used in an object choice task where a reward was concealed under one of two containers on opposite ends of a training platform. A human experimenter gave one of three social cues (point, gaze, or point and gaze) indicating the container where the reward was hidden. Correct choices were determined by whether the subject touched its rostrum to the container or remained stationary in front of the container for five seconds. I predicted that if the ability of the subject to recognize that a social cue indicated a reward was simply the result of being a highly social species, then both younger and older dolphins would perform equally well. However, if older dolphins performed better than younger dolphins, this would indicate that the ability to use social cues is the result of ontogeny. I also correlated performance in the social cueing trials with personality factors relating to behaviors towards humans, the physical world, and peers with the prediction that dolphins that were cooperative and observant would have the highest overall performance. The results indicated that intermediate age dolphins had the best overall performance although the results in this study were not significant. The results also indicated that personality does significantly correlate with performance, specifically with the factors of cooperative and observant, and can therefore predict performance on a human-cued task.