Analysis of "Mirror Self-Recognition in Bottlenose Dolphins: Implications for Comparative Investigations of Highly Dissimilar Species"

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Analysis of "Mirror Self-Recognition in Bottlenose Dolphins: Implications for Comparative Investigations of Highly Dissimilar Species" Studies using chimpanzees, orangutans, and humans have shown displays of self-recognition with the introduction of a mirror. The display, exhibited by these animals, shows a certain cognitive level that's hard to achieve by other animals. The experiment tested by Marino, Reiss, and Gallup, Jr. built on the idea of self-recognition by testing cetaceans, particularly bottlenose dolphins. Two dolphins were exposed to a life size mirror for 36 hours over an 11-day period. On the 11th day, the dolphins were marked with white Zinc Oxide. The animals were already habituated with the marking procedure from previous sham marking to Neo Blue. One drawback of the experiment (besides the fact that there was a relatively small sample size) was the fact that the dolphins could feel the Zinc Oxide on their skin, and thus there was also tactile stimulation. All behaviors during the period were video taped and analyzed via a behavioral ethogram. Although inconclusive, the results turned out to be highly suggestive. The data was organized in clear concise diagrams and charts in the scientific paper. Dolphins showed many specific responses to the mirror, including head movements, posturing, and certain repetitive movements. Although these actions seemed out of the ordinary, it was still hard to determine with these actions were due to self-recognition or if they were merely social behaviors. The animals responded to the white mark by posturing their bodies towards the mirror, indicating examination of the mark. As the mark was removed the animals would return to the mirror, posturing themselves to look at the mark. This experiment in many ways mimicked those of primate mirror studies. In a sense this study tried to replicate primate tests, but because the two animals and their environments differ so much, certain issues about the validity of using a primate test to prove the existence of self-recognition for dolphins arose. Exposure time to the mirror for dolphins was extremely limited compared to the time that primates were allotted. Another discrepancy between the experiments was the fact that primates were anaesthetized as compared to the dolphins which used sham marking. Both studies focused on visual aspects of the self-recognition, but although vision is excellent in dolphins, audition is their primary sense (unlike primates).

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