Research Highlights 1

Dolphins Understand Partner’s Role in Cooperation

Cooperation can be found across the animal kingdom, but do cooperating animals actively coordinate their behavior, or are they simply acting individually in the same place and time? This study at Dolphin Research Center investigated whether bottlenose dolphins could understand their partner’s role in a cooperative situation by testing whether they could learn a task requiring precise behavioral coordination between partners. To succeed, pairs of dolphins had to swim across a lagoon and each press their own button simultaneously, whether sent together or with a delay between them of up to 20 seconds.

The results showed the dolphins were able to work together with extreme precision even when they had to wait for their partner. In the wild, dolphins show synchronous breathing between moms and calves, and synchronous coordinated displays between allied males. This study showed that dolphins understand their partner’s role in a cooperative context (as shown by the fact that they waited and actively coordinated), and suggests that the behavioral synchronization bottlenose dolphins show in the wild may in fact be a generalized cognitive ability that they can apply to a variety of situations.


  • Jaakkola, K., Guarino, E., Donegan, K., & King, S.L. (2018). Bottlenose dolphins can understand their partner’s role in a cooperative task. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, 20180948. (

Affiliate Organizations:  Dolphin Research Center, University of Western Australia

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