GRASSY KEY, Fla. — In a lagoon in the Florida Keys, trainer Emily Guarino blindfolds a male dolphin named Tanner with special latex goggles. "You ready, Tanner?" Guarino asks the young dolphin, waiting beside his companion, Kibby.
At a command, another trainer gets Kibby to say "hello" by flapping his fins on the water, splashing noisily in the enclosed lagoon at the Dolphin Research Center here, which houses 22 dolphins and is one of the leaders in dolphin cognitive studies.
"Can you imitate what Kibby is doing?" Guarino asks Tanner. Within seconds, Tanner is splashing "hello" -- a seemingly extraordinary feat given the blindfolded dolphin appears to only be using sound to perceive and imitate the actions of his fellow dolphin.
It turns out dolphins are master imitators that somehow can "see" their environment despite blindfolds. But exactly how such a dolphin can mimic another's action is a matter of ongoing scientific study.
Dr. Kelly Jaakkola, director of the nonprofit marine mammal research center, said the research to better understand dolphin intelligence will surely help further their conservation. She said such studies may also be helpful in better grasping the complexities of human intelligence.