Catch cuttlefish, drain off the ink, then fillet. Serves five (dolphins)

Scientists stunned by mammals' elaborate culinary preparations

A A A

Cuttlefish make a tasty meal, but getting rid of all that nasty bone and ink can be tricky. Not so for dolphins, who have been nicknamed the chefs of the sea after Australian researchers discovered them using elaborate preparations to turn the fish into a soft, chewy snack.

The scientists observed a wild Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin repeatedly performing a complex set of manoeuvres in the Spencer Gulf off South Australia. First, on spotting her prey, the female flushed a cuttlefish out of the dense weeds where they generally hide, into an open area with clear visibility. Adopting a vertical pose, head down and tail up, she pinned it to the sandy sea floor with her snout.

With a flick of her powerful tail, the dolphin then killed the fish with a rapid downward thrust that broke the cuttlebone. Divers who were watching heard a "loud click" as the bone snapped, the research team reported in the online science and medical journal PLoS ONE.

Next, the dolphin expelled the toxic black ink that cuttlefish squirt at predators when attacked, lifting the dead fish high in the water and repeatedly whacking it with her snout to release thick clouds of ink. Finally, it was time to get rid of the large, hard bone. The dolphin dived back down to the sea floor, where she scraped the fish along the sand, stripping off the skin until the bone popped out. And hey presto: an appetising morsel akin to calamari was ready to be tucked into.

During two underwater visits four years apart, the researchers watched the female – identified by a circular scar on her head – follow the same procedure no fewer than seven times. And, having observed a number of pods from above the water, they believe this method of preparing the perfect cuttlefish meal is widely used by dolphins in the area.

"It's a sign of how well their brains are developed," a member of the team, Mark Norman, told The Canberra Times. Dr Norman, the curator of molluscs at the Museum Victoria, added: "It's a pretty clever way to get pure calamari without all the horrible bits."

In the journal, he and his co-author, Tom Tregenza, of the University of Exeter, reported seeing clean cuttlebones bob to the surface as pods of dolphins passed, which suggested that "some or all of this behavioural sequence is not restricted to a single individual dolphin".

Moreover, divers in the area – a cuttlefish spawning ground – had noticed other dolphins performing the same sequence of actions, described by the researchers as "impressive behavioural flexibility for a non-primate animal".

An earlier study in 2005 in Western Australia provided the first evidence that dolphins are capable of group learning and using tools. A mother was seen teaching her offspring to break off sea sponges and wear them on their snouts, like protective gloves, while foraging for food on the sea floor. Other researchers have observed dolphins remove the spines from flathead fish before eating them, and break 3ft-long golden trevally into bite-sized pieces.

Last year, a wild dolphin near Adelaide was seen teaching fellow pod members to walk on their tails – behaviour normally picked up only after training in captivity. One of the group had spent a brief period in a dolphinarium 20 years ago and may have learnt the trick there. However, scientists were struck by the way the mammals appeared to have developed a shared "tail-walking culture".

Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas