Whale uses fish as bait to catch seagulls then shares strategy with fellow orcas
September 7, 2005
NIAGARA FALLS, Ontario - An enterprising young killer whale at Marineland has figured out how to use fish as bait to catch seagulls — and shared his strategy with his fellow whales.
Michael Noonan, a professor of animal behavior at Canisius College in Buffalo, N.Y., made the discovery by accident while studying orca acoustics.
"One day I noticed one of the young whales appeared to have come up with a procedure for luring gulls down to the pool," the professor said. "I found it interesting so I noted it in my log."
First, the young whale spit regurgitated fish onto the surface of the water, then sank below the water and waited.
If a hungry gull landed on the water, the whale would surge up to the surface, sometimes catching a free meal of his own.
Noonan watched as the same whale set the same trap again and again.
Within a few months, the whale's younger half brother adopted the practice. Eventually the behavior spread and now five Marineland whales supplement their diet with fresh fowl, the scientist said.
"It looked liked one was watching while the other tried," Noonan said of the whale's initial behavior.
The capacity to come up with the gull-baiting strategy and then share the technique with others — known as cultural learning in the scientific world — was once believed to be one of those abilities that separated humans from other animals.
But biologists have since proven certain animals, including dolphins and chimps, do this.
"This is an example in which a new behavior spread through a population," Noonan said. "We had the opportunity to see a tradition form and spread in exactly the way that cultures do in humans."
He first shared his research earlier this month at the U.S. Animal Behavior Society Conference in Utah. Since then, he said, his phone hasn't stopped ringing.
the Associated Press
ARTICLE CONTENT COPYRIGHT the Associated Press. THIS CONTENT IS INTENDED SOLELY FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES.
mongabay.com users agree to the following as a condition for use of this material:
This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of environmental issues. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.
If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from mongabay.com, please contact me.