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Behav Brain Res. 2003 Jun 16;142(1-2):109-14.

Visual lateralization in the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus): evidence for a population asymmetry?

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Marineland Mallorca, Costa d'En Blanes, 07184 Calvia, Mallorca, Spain.


A previous behavioural study with a single bottlenose dolphin had reported a right eye superiority in visual discrimination tasks, indicating a left hemisphere dominance for visual object processing. The presence of a functional asymmetry demonstrated with one individual shows that this function can be lateralized in this single animal, but cannot reveal if this represents a population asymmetry. Therefore, we conducted a series of visual discrimination experiments with three individuals of Tursiops truncatus under monocular conditions. The tested animals had to distinguish between simultaneously presented stimulus pairs of different patterns, whereby one stimulus was always defined to be correct. Additionally, the animals were observed for their free eye use during training and introduction of new items. The present data set revealed a right eye advantage (left hemisphere dominance) for all tested animals and a predominance of right eye use during daily activities. These results make it possible that bottlenose dolphins are lateralized for visual pattern discrimination at the level of a population asymmetry. Against the background of similar data in other vertebrates, a left hemisphere dominance for pattern discrimination points to the possibility that dolphins exploit local visual details instead of global configurational features to recognize and memorize visual stimuli.

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