, Volume 26, Issue 2, pp 210-218

Memory for recent actions in the bottlenosed dolphin (Tursiops truncatus): Repetition of arbitrary behaviors using an abstract rule


Little is known about how animals represent their own actions in working memory. We investigated whether bottlenosed dolphins could recall actions they had recently performed and reveal those recollections using an abstract rule. Two dolphins were trained to respond to a specific gestural command by repeating the last behavior performed. Both dolphins proved to be able to repeat a wide variety of behaviors on command and were able to generalize the repeating rule to novel behaviors and situations. One dolphin was able to repeat all 36 behaviors she was tested on, including behaviors involving multiple simultaneous actions and self-selected behaviors. These results suggest that dolphins can flexibly access memories of their recent actions and that these memories are of sufficient detail to allow for reenactments. The repeating task can potentially be used to investigate short-term action and event representations in a variety of species.

Portions of this research were supported by a grant from Earthwatch to L. Herman and A. Pack. Many thanks to the people who helped us collect our data, including Amy Cutting, Erin Williams, Carrie Southgate, Toni Cimino, Christa Weiss, Kitty Hudson, Joyce Cranmer, Becca Cowan, Deirdre Killebrew, and numerous other volunteers working at the Kewalo Basin Marine Mammal Laboratory. We also thank H. Roitblat and two anonymous reviewers for their comments on previous versions of the manuscript.
—Accepted by previous editor, Robert A. Rescorla