Monthly Archives: June 2005

Dolphins in the News

There’s a relatively recent story about tool use in dolphins, pointing to the use of sponges for protecting the rostrum in dolphins of Shark Bay, Australia.

The story relates how the researchers utilized genetic data to determine that this behavior is passed on from mother to offspring. So far, so good. Then they make the claim that this is the first evidence of a culturally transmitted behavior in a marine mammal.

This is the first time scientists have found evidence for the passing on of cultural behaviour in marine mammals.

Hmmm. My baloney detector is making “wheep-wheep!” noises over this claim.

It might be the first study of transmitted cultural behavior with genetic assays backing it up, but that’s not the only form of evidence available for establishing a culturally transmitted behavior. I heard a talk a few years ago concerning observation of a human-dolphin cooperative fishery in South America, where the dolphins participating in the fishery learned the behavior from mom. I’ll see if I can look that up. As for cooperative human-dolphin fisheries, reports of those go back to Pliny. A more modern report was made by Rene-Guy Busnel (1973. “Symbiotic relationship between man and dolphins.” Transactions of the New York Academy of Sciences, Series 11, 35(2):112-131.). Do we really think that multi-generational cooperative fisheries do not involve cultural transmission of the behavior on the part of the dolphins?

We scientists do like to put claims of “first” in our findings. Unfortunately, we don’t always do the hard work of checking to make sure that it really is a “first” and not a “second”, “third”, or “thousandth”. This research with the sponge behavior is interesting on its own account, and the likely-overblown claim of novelty is just an annoying distraction.

<> 5688 1840 >

Travel and Talking

I head off for Texas tomorrow, where I’ll be for a week.

I’ll be visiting Marc Nowell, my friend who graciously hosts the server that “” — and a number of other domains — runs on.

I’ll also be making trips to Waco, Denton, and Dallas to give talks.

“Bottlenose Dolphin Biosonar: Sound Production, Bioenergetics, and Individual Variation” covers the history of a dispute over the mechanism and site of click sound production in dolphins and recent research results bearing on that, the bioenergetics of click sound production, and observed individual variation in clicks and click trains.

June 14, 2005 12:00pm
Baylor University Biology Department
Baylor Science Building A108
Waco, TX


June 16, 2005, TBA
Texas Woman’s University at Denton

Then, for something completely different…

The Logic and Tactics of ‘Intelligent Design’

This talk explores the socio-political phenomenon of the “intelligent design” movement and the mode of argumentation used within it. The essential sterility of the “intelligent design” field provides a fascinating conundrum: with so little to offer, how is it that “intelligent design” advocates have taken the high-profile position in arguments over evolution and science education? This a for a meeting of the North Texas Skeptics. They meet at the Center for Non-Profit Management at 2900 Live Oak street in Dallas (near Baylor Medical Center east of downtown).

June 18, 2005 2:00pm
Center for Non-Profit Management
2900 Live Oak Street
Dallas, TX

I hope to check out Brazos Barbeque during my trip. I haven’t had Texas barbecue in a year and a half. I’ll probably have to hold back due to my now-delicate digestive system.

<> 5351 1760 >