Friday, March 24, 2023

Animal and Human Cooperation: A Blog by Warren Bull

 Animal and Human Cooperation: A Blog by Warren Bull

Animals and humans have a long history of cooperation for mutual benefit. For at least one hundred and fifty years, joint activities have been noted and recorded. Unfortunately, as human society changes people have become less interested in practices that were formerly a routine of daily life.,for%20more%20than%20a%20century.  

Both dolphins and people fish together in Brazil.

Using drones, sonar, and underwater sound recording, the research team recorded the interspecies fishing team in action. They found that when the fishers cast their nets in sync with the dolphins’ cues, the cetaceans increased their echolocation click rates to create a “terminal buzz”—a sign of them homing in on prey. When the fishers were not in sync with the dolphins, this response was less common. 

The dolphins took advantage of disoriented fish after the fishers cast, even snatching some directly from the nets.

Fishers were also more successful when they worked with the dolphins. When dolphins were present, the fishers were 17 times more likely to catch fish and netted nearly four times more mullets when they timed their casting with the cetaceans’ signals. Eighty-six percent of all 4,955 mullets caught during the study period came from “synchronous interactions”—when both predators coordinated their actions perfectly with one another. 

“Dolphins benefit fishers by herding mullet schools towards them, creating temporary high-quality patches just before giving a cue, and signaling when prey are within reach of fishers’ nets,” write the authors. “During interviews with the most experienced fishers, 98 percent reported that dolphins gain foraging benefits from synchronous interactions.” 

The study also revealed that dolphins hunting with humans had a 13 percent increase in survival rate over other dolphins. These cooperative dolphins are more likely to stay near the shore, reducing their chance of entanglement in illegal fishing gear.

“This study clearly shows that both dolphins and humans are paying attention to each other’s behavior and that dolphins provide a cue to when the nets should be cast,” Stephanie King, a biologist who studies dolphin communication at the University of Bristol in England and was not involved in the research, tells Christina Larson of the Associated Press. “This is really incredible cooperative behavior.” 

Honey-hunting between humans and honeyguides in Coastal Kenya

The Awer people, are described by observers as marginal hunter-gatherers, who depend on wild honey, to trade with other people.

The remarkable mutualism between humans and greater honeyguides (Indicator indicator) is known still to thrive in only a few places in Africa. Here, we report on the honey-hunting culture of the marginalized Awer people in Kenya, historically a hunter-gatherer culture who today practice a mixed economy including significant amounts of foraging for wild foods. As part of a larger effort to document cross-cultural honey-hunting traditions in Africa, we interviewed six Awer honey-hunters to document their cultural practices. The interviewees reported that they depend on wild honey as a source of income and that they readily seek the cooperation of honeyguides. Honey-hunting skills and the calls/whistles used to communicate with honeyguides are learned from their fathers and other elders in the village. The best time to honey-hunt is in the months following the big rains (August–December) when interviewees go out honey-hunting once a week on average. Honeyguides are not actively rewarded with wax, as it is believed that once a bird is fed it will not cooperate again for some time, and therefore after the honey harvest is complete, all remaining wax comb is buried. Honey-hunting practices are declining in this region, which interviewees attributed to drought and a lack of interest by the youth. These findings expand our understanding of how human-honeyguide mutualism persists across a range of human cultural variations.

All interviewees reported they learned to honey-hunt with honeyguides using the signaling calls and whistles from their fathers and other elders in the village. They reported that the skills are known by all men but only a few use them.

According to folklore, one day the bees called for a ceremony for all feathered creatures. They did not invite the honeyguides. The meal served was honey. When the honeyguides realized they were the only birds not invited and the other birds kept talking about the sweet, tasty, treat. they were annoyed and disappointed. When the birds finally got to taste honey, they resolved to partner with humans to have the first taste of honey and to punish the bees.

I am reminded of European colonizers who “discovered” new lands where people were already living. I’m glad these examples are now officially documented, but in fact, the interactions have been going on for a very long time.


  1. We're all aware of some human/animal interactions, but these are extraordinary and not well-known.

  2. Dolphins are truly fascinating creatures; I'm reminded of a time when we were boating in Florida, and my uncle injured himself while swimming. A pod of dolphins surrounded him and helped guide him back to the boat. Come to find out, a shark was in the area! Their instinct to help was amazing to witness.

  3. Sarah, that is fascinating! I do hope you use that in a story.

    This is so interesting, Warren. I had heard of the dolphin/human cooperation, but not of the honey gatherers.

  4. So very interesting! Love all the research you do!