Mindlessly watching TV is a pastime enjoyed by many humans, and it seems dolphins are into it too.
Researchers at the Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder in Key Largo, Florida, played videos on a TV screen through underwater windows for a small sample of 11 bottlenose and five rough-toothed dolphins.
As detailed in a subsequent study published in , the team played scenes from Sir David Attenborough‘s Planet Earth featuring other cetaceans, as well as clips from the nature series without any animals, plus some Spongebob Squarepants for good measure.
The researchers monitored the dolphins‘ behaviour, noting certain traits like aggression (indicated by head jerks or a jaw clap), or interest (shown by raising their chin, or pressing their melon — basically, their rounded forehead — against the TV), or the blowing of bubbles (which can either be a sign of aggression or interest, although researchers think it‘s more the former in this case).
They found that the dolphins didn‘t really mind what was on the TV, but certain dolphins showed more interest in the pictures than others.
“Rough‐toothed dolphins displayed significantly more behaviors, particularly interest and bubble behaviors, than bottlenose dolphins, with no differences observed between the species for the percentage of time spent watching,” researchers noted.
“Among bottlenose dolphins, males watched the television longer, and responded behaviorally significantly more, displaying a higher rate of bubble and aggressive behaviors than females. Male rough‐toothed dolphins displayed significantly more aggressive behaviors than females, with no other sex differences noted.”
Those aggressive behaviours may be due to the inability for these dolphins to physically interact with or manipulate the TV, the study explains. In future, researchers think TV could be useful as an “enrichment device,” so long their species, sex and individual differences are taken into consideration.
And we get it dolphins, us humans sometimes don‘t care if we watch Spongebob Squarepants or Planet Earth either, as long as something‘s on.