Today for STEM Friday we have new addition to the incredible Scientists in the Field series: The Dolphins of Shark Bay by Pamela S. Turner, with photographs by Scott Tuason. This outstanding book encapsulates over twenty-five years of research into dolphin intelligence by scientist Janet Mann and her colleagues working at Shark Bay in Australia.
It is difficult to decide where to start, because there is so very much packed into the book. It reveals how science is done in the field, plus gives loads of information about wild bottlenose dolphins. It also asks some hard questions about whether these intelligent animals should be kept in captivity solely for our enjoyment, and those are just a few highlights.
One of the first findings from Mann’s early studies has to do more with humans than dolphins. She found tourists who fed the dolphins at Shark Bay were inadvertently causing increased dolphin mortality because begging to humans took the mother dolphins away from tending their babies and the babies weren’t learning how to hunt, a skill they needed to survive. “Tame” dolphins were also more likely to be caught in fishing nets and injured. With her information in hand, the Australian government ended unregulated feeding of dolphins in 1995, although illegal feeding still sometimes occurs.
The main thrust of Mann’s research has been looking at dolphin intelligence from an evolutionary perspective. Why do dolphins have big relatively brains and what do they use them for? By using techniques developed in primate research, she has been able to follow individuals throughout their lifetimes. Some evidence suggests that how the males form alliances to control females for mating may be at least part of the answer.
Some of the research group’s more exciting findings include the use of “tools” by dolphins. Certain dolphins have learned to pluck sponges and carry them on their noses (rostrum) to poke around amongst rocks and on shells the bottom of the ocean to chase out fish that hide there. These fish are at least partially hidden from the echolocation the dolphins normally use to find fish and were shielded by the sharp bottom debris, at least until dolphins figured out how to protect themselves!
These special dolphins have been the subject of several BBC documentaries, some of which are available online like this one:
Lovely! Doesn’t make you want to pack your bags for Australia right now? Well, maybe not the sharks…
The Dolphins of Shark Bay will surely inspire future generations of scientists and dolphin enthusiasts. Look for it today!
For more information:
Shark Bay Dolphin Project website
Learn about different types of dolphins and other marine mammals at Kids Do Ecology
Other reviews at:
Smart Books for Smart Kids (author interview)
Age Range: 10 – 14 years
Grade Level: 5 – 9
Series: Scientists in the Field Series
Hardcover: 80 pages
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (November 5, 2013)
Disclosures: This book was provided by the author for review purposes. Also, I am an affiliate for Amazon, and if you click through the linked titles or ads and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog.
Come visit the STEM Friday blog each week to find more great Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books.