Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tool Use in Octopuses...and Dolphins, and Elephants, and Naked Mole Rats and...

“I have never laughed so hard underwater,” said Julia Finn, a Museum Victoria biologist, witnessing an Indonesian veined octopus, having sheltered beneath a coconut shell, picking it up and running away, simultaneously escaping Dr. Finn and demonstrating the manipulation of objects that is tool-use - remarkable in non-humans, astounding in marine invertebrates.

By now we say, "Yes, yes, yes. Alright already with the non-human tool use," when presented with stick-wielding crows and termite-fishing chimps, but the Wired link below includes video examples that are impressive, even a little disturbing: naked mole rats fashioning dust masks, elephants protecting waterholes from evaporation, and the strange use of sponges in hunting by solitary female dolphins who teach the skill only to their daughters.

Which is how I learned it.

Don't read the "Whales as Much like Humans as Apes" one, though. It involves this year's tragic June International Whaling Commission meeting, futile harvest limits, and the Japanese. Words like "haunting" and "yeesh" drift to mind, and maybe:"Could it be?'Human cognitive ability' is not the supreme measure of intelligence after all."

Thinking of you and your remarkable ability to manipulate objects,

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