After 22 long years of observation, scientists have concluded that dolphins have a preference for who they choose to hang out with. The main example of this phenomenon is among populations of dolphins that use sea sponges to assist in hunting for food. Sea-sponging dolphins are usually known for being the loners of the dolphin world, but when they do choose to socialize, they prefer the company of others who hunt in the same way. It could be compared to human-like patterns, such as people who work in the same office going out for a drink together.
The teaching of how to use sea sponges to hunt has been observed for many years. Unlike most animal populations, however, where a learned behavior spreads throughout an entire population, only a small percentage of dolphins will adopt this hunting technique. Apparently, they feel the need to talk shop with others of their kind.
This is not to say that this particular subset of the population ignores other dolphins completely. They often move around and associate with all sorts of other dolphins who don’t use sea sponges. When they have a choice, however, they will usually choose other sea-spongers. To make the thing even more interesting, this behavior is observed primarily among female portions of the population. Males seem to be a little more accepting of their less technical brothers and sisters.
While it may seem a small matter, the existence of subcultures among dolphins is a trait that is not normally seen in the animal world. Dolphins are the first example of this sort of behavior, giving even more clues to the levels of intelligence that they possess. Scientists are looking into other cultural determinants to see if more factors may influence who dolphins choose to associate with. They theorize that age, sex, relations and geographical location may all play a role and hope to further prove that dolphins are indeed more like humans than most have ever expected.