MAR 22, 2017 6:31 AM PDT

Sea Otters Have Used Tools Longer Than Dolphins Have

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

Scientists are learning that more animals use tools in the wild than previously thought. It seems humans aren’t the only species that try to use mother nature to their own advantage, even if we do have to give ourselves credit for using it in some of the most advanced ways compared to any other animal species.

Plenty of land animals like birds and chimps use tools to their advantage, which is to be expected since chimps are closely related to humans and birds are simply intelligent creatures, on the other hand, other diverse species in the animal kingdom are also known for their tool use that don’t really get the spotlight too often.

Even marine animals use tools; among those are dolphins and sea otters, but scientists now say that sea otters may have been using tools for a far longer period of time than dolphins have. The findings now appear in a genetic study that was published in the journal Biology Letters.

Sea otters are often seen floating on their backs, just like this, as they use rocks as tools to break open shellfish to eat.

Image Credit: Skeeze/Pixabay

Bottlenose dolphins have been observing using sponges as tools to protect their noses from harm while scavenging the deep for prey, but this is something scientists say is relatively new behavior that can’t be more than only a couple of centuries old.

Sea otters, on the other hand, are frequently seen laying on their backs and using rocks as tools to bust open the shellfish they catch to be eaten, and it’s suggested that they’ve been doing this for eons – so long, in fact, that even their early ancestors from thousands (and perhaps millions) of years ago used the same methods.

To find out if sea otters have been doing this for a long time, they compared the DNA of sea otters from all over the Pacific Ocean to find out if there were any major differences in DNA between tool users and non-tool users. The findings confirm that there were no major genetic differences, which suggest they are all capable of it and that the common DNA was shared from their ancestors as well.

Even more interestingly, even captive sea otters seem to possess this trait, which further adds to the evidence that it's an innate ability, and not one that's learned.

The same DNA tests on dolphins found quite the opposite results; it was shown that tool-using dolphins were more related to one another genetically than those that didn’t use tools, which would suggest that dolphins’ common ancestors didn’t have this tool-using trait and that it was a recent development.

To find out when exactly the behavior first started in sea otters, there are reportedly plans to study sea otter fossils. Such research has yet to be conducted yet, but may reveal some answers to many questions scientists still have left over after conducting this study.

Source: BBC

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
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