Animal Learning & Behavior

, Volume 31, Issue 2, pp 133-142

First online:

A bottlenose dolphin discriminates visual stimuli differing in numerosity

  • Annette KilianAffiliated withRuhr-Universität BochumTiergarten Nürnberg Email author 
  • , Sevgi YamanAffiliated withRuhr-Universität BochumMarineland Mallorca
  • , Lorenzo von FersenAffiliated withTiergarten Nürnberg
  • , Onur GüntürkünAffiliated withRuhr-Universität Bochum


A bottlenose dolphin was trained to discriminate two simultaneously presented stimuli differing in numerosity (defined by the number of constituent elements). After responding correctly to stimuli consisting of three-dimensional objects, the dolphin transferred to two-dimensional stimuli. Initially, a variety of stimulus parameters covaried with the numerosity feature. By systematically controlling for these stimulus parameters, it was demonstrated that some of these attributes, such as element configuration and overall brightness, affected the animal’s discrimination performance. However, after all the confounding parameters were under control, the dolphin was able to discriminate the stimuli exclusively on the basis of the numerosity feature. The animal then achieved a successful transfer to novel numerosities, both intervening numerosities and numerosities outside the former range. These findings provide substantial evidence that the dolphin could base his behavior on the numerosity of a set independently of its other attributes and that he represented ordinal relations among numerosities.