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How an aquarium trick became a fad in the dolphin world

Old dolphins sometimes learn new tricks. When Australian researchers first observed wild dolphins performing a trick known as “tail walking,” wherein the mammal rises vertically out of the water and scoots back and forth over its surface, they were bewildered at how the behavior moved from aquarium shows (where it’s a staple) to wild waters off the coast of Adelaide, Australia, The Independent reports. It took a 30-year study to determine that they learned the trick by copying a previously captive dolphin known as Billie, and the fad spread throughout the pod until by 2011 there were nine tail walkers before falling out of style 3 years later. The researchers say the trick’s spread is an interesting, albeit strange, example of the social role imitation can play in dolphin behavior, and will publish their results next week in the Royal Society’s Biology Letters.

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