, Volume 7, Issue 4, pp 224-230

The use of experimenter-given cues by South African fur seals (Arctocephalus pusillus)

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Abstract

Dogs can use a variety of experimenter-given cues such as pointing, head direction, and eye direction to locate food hidden under one of several containers. Some authors have proposed that this is a result of the domestication process. In this study we tested four captive fur seals in a two alternative object choice task in which subjects had to use one of the following experimenter-given cues to locate the food: (1) the experimenter pointed and gazed at one of the objects, (2) the experimenter pointed at only one of the objects, (3) the experimenter gazed at only one of the objects, (4) the experimenter glanced at only one of the objects, (5) the experimenter pointed and gazed at one of the objects but was sitting closer to one object than to the other, (6) the experimenter pointed only with the index finger at one of the objects, (7) the experimenter presented a replica of one of the objects. The fur seals were able to use cues which involved a fully exposed arm or a head direction, but failed to use glance only, the index finger pointing and the object replica cues. The results showed that a domestication process was not necessary to develop receptive skills to cues given by an experimenter. Instead, we hypothesize that close interactions with humans prior to testing enabled fur seals to use some gestural cues without formal training. We also analyzed the behavior of the seals depending on the level of difficulty of the task. Behavioral signs of hesitation increased with task difficulty. This suggests that the fur seals were sensitive to task difficulty.