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The authors assessed the ability of 6 captive dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) to comprehend without explicit training 3 human communicative signs (pointing, directed gaze, and replica). Pointing consisted of indicating the target item with the index finger and a fully extended arm. Directed gaze consisted of orienting the head and eyes toward the target item while the rest of the body remained stationary. The replica signal consisted of holding up an exact duplicate of the target item. On the initial series of 12 trials for each condition, 3 dolphins performed above chance on pointing, 2 on gaze, and none for replica. With additional trials, above chance performance increased to 4 dolphins for pointing, 6 for gazing, and 2 for replica. The replica sign seemed to be the most taxing for them (only 2 dolphins achieved results significantly above chance). Taken together, these results indicate that dolphins are able to interpret untrained communicative signs successfully.


Journal article


J Comp Psychol

Publication Date





100 - 105


Animals, Behavior, Animal, Dolphins, Female, Humans, Learning, Male, Nonverbal Communication, Practice (Psychology), Sign Language