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Getting the gull: baiting trick spreads among killer whales.

A young male orca that started regurgitating fish and then ambushing seagulls attracted by the mess seems to have set off a wave of cultural transmission in his neighborhood.

The innovative killer whale killer whale or grampus, a large, rapacious marine mammal, Orcinus orca, of the dolphin family. Male killer whales may reach a length of 30 ft (9 m) and females half that length.  lives in MarineLand, an attraction in Niagara Falls Niagara Falls, waterfall, United States and Canada
Niagara Falls, in the Niagara River, W N.Y. and S Ont., Canada; one of the most famous spectacles in North America. The falls are on the international line between the cities of Niagara Falls, N.Y.
, Canada, and behavioral biologist Michael Noonan For other people with similar names, including Michael J. Noonan (Fianna Fáil), see Michael Noonan (disambiguation)
Michael Noonan (Irish: Micheál Ó Nuanáin 
 happened to videotape the orca's early ambushes. As Noonan kept track, other orcas in the park also started baiting gulls this way.

The spread of this trick might be an orca version of people learning from each other, proposes Noonan, a researcher at Canisius College Canisius College (pronounced IPA: /kəˈniːʃəs/) is a private Catholic college in the Hamlin Park district of north-central Buffalo, New York. It was founded in 1870 by the Jesuits. It is named for St.  in Buffalo, N.Y. His records offer a rare look at the path of a tradition, he reported last week in Snowbird, Utah Snowbird is a locale based in Little Cottonwood Canyon in the Wasatch Range of the Rocky Mountains in Utah. It is perhaps most famous for the Snowbird ski resort, an alpine skiing and snowboarding area, which opened in December 1971. , at the annual meeting of the Animal Behavior Society The Animal Behavior Society is an international non-profit scientific society that encourages and promotes the professional study of animal behavior. It has open membership, and also provides a certification and directory for animal behaviorists. .

"There's nothing else so well documented in cetaceans," says Bennett G. Galef Jr., a social-learning specialist at McMaster University McMaster University, at Hamilton, Ont., Canada; nondenominational; founded 1887. It has faculties of humanities, science, social sciences, business, engineering, and health sciences, as well as a school of graduate studies and a divinity college.  in Hamilton, Ontario. He finds the new orca behavior "plausible" as an example of cultural learning but notes that it hasn't been confirmed by experiments.

Earlier studies of marine mammals marine mammals

mammals inhabiting the sea; generally taken to include the cetaceans (whales, porpoise, dolphin), the sirenians (sea-cows, including manatees and dugong) and the pinnipeds (the carnivores of the group, seals, sealions, walruses).
, as well as primates, birds, and a few other animals, have suggested that animals sometimes pass along newly developed behaviors. Young orcas seem to learn ways of hunting, vocal quirks specific to their pod, and, perhaps, aspects of baby care. Observing the spread of a tradition has been difficult in the wild.

Noonan set up his orca watch at MarineLand more than 8 years ago to study the orcas' calls. By lucky accident, he says, he was there for the start of the gull baiting. Gulls lurked around the park, ready to snatch fish at feeding time "Feeding Time" is the second sub-episode of Tom and Jerry Tales. Episode Summary
Tom is working at a zoo run by Spike, who tells Tom not to feed the zoo animals. Jerry then starts to frame Tom for feeding them so he will get in trouble.
, and occasionally an orca snapped up a careless bird for a meal or entertainment. However, Noonan says that for the first 4 years of his observations, he saw no systematic baiting of gulls by orcas.

Then, Noonan's camera array captured images of a young male leaping out of the water and spitting partially eaten fish onto the surface. The orca dropped back but stayed within striking distance of the mess. When a gull swooped down for a snack, the orca lunged.

For the 3 months after Noonan first observed the trick, only this young male baited gulls. Then, the cameras picked up his younger half brother spitting fish and ambushing birds. Later, two adult females started the activity.

The pattern of youngsters and females being the first to adopt a fashion fits other records of cultural transmission. "I hate to stereotype, but your granddad is the stodgiest one in the family," says Noonan.

Recently, he notes, one of the adult males has started what may be a variant of the strategy. That orca picks up fish from the pool's drain and spits them undigested onto the water's surface.

James Ha of the University of Washington in Seattle studies orcas in the wild. He says that he has seen the killer whales catching and playing with gulls. Now, he plans to look for gull baiting.

The baiting behavior has been a mixed blessing for the park, says Noonan. It's scientifically exciting, but visitors don't always react well to orcas dangling gulls from their months.
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Author:Milius, S.
Publication:Science News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 20, 2005
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