Spontaneous pointing by bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus)


Two bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) participating in a symbolic communication project spontaneously developed behaviors that resembled pointing and gaze alternation. The dolphins' behavior demonstrated several features reminiscent of referential communicative behavior. It was triadic, involving a signaler, receiver, and referent. It was also indicative, specifying a focus of attention. The dolphins' points were distinct from the act of attending to or acting on objects. Spontaneous dolphin pointing was influenced by the presence of a potential receiver, and the distance between that receiver and the dolphin. These findings suggest that dolphins are capable of producing referential gestures.

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Accepted after revision: 14 August 2001

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Xitco, M.J., Gory, J.D. & Kuczaj, S.A. Spontaneous pointing by bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). Anim.Cogn. 4, 115–123 (2001). https://doi.org/10.1007/s100710100107

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  • Dolphin Pointing Cognition