Scientists made dolphins watch SpongeBob SquarePants

Turns out captive dolphins might enjoy TV like humans, according to a new study.

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Bonnie Burton
Journalist Bonnie Burton writes about movies, TV shows, comics, science and robots. She is the author of the books Live or Die: Survival Hacks, Wizarding World: Movie Magic Amazing Artifacts, The Star Wars Craft Book, Girls Against Girls, Draw Star Wars, Planets in Peril and more! E-mail Bonnie.
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Scientists have discovered that dolphins may be just as enthralled with television as humans.

Researchers at Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder in Key Largo, Florida, played videos on TV screens through underwater windows for 11 bottlenose and five rough-toothed dolphins to study their behavior.  

The dolphins were shown ocean scenes from the nature documentary Planet Earth, as well as episodes of the cartoon SpongeBob SquarePants to test if the dolphins preferred shows with more realistic or animated marine settings.

Researchers then analyzed the dolphins' reactions when watching TV, such as nodding their heads or swimming erratically. 

From the collected data, researchers revealed in the study that the dolphins may have been interested in the TV shows no matter what was on, though male dolphins seemed to react more to the videos than female dolphins.

Enlarge Image

A closer look at the experiment setup, as well as two of the dolphins watching videos for the study.

Kelley A. Winship/Wiley ZooBiology

In the new study in Zoo Biology, researchers stated that "among bottlenose dolphins, males watched the television longer, and responded behaviorally significantly more, displaying a higher rate of bubble and aggressive behaviors than females. Male rough‐toothed dolphins displayed significantly more aggressive behaviors than females."

Researchers also discovered that even hearing-impaired dolphins paid close attention to the videos, indicating moving pictures themselves might be what enticed the dolphins to keep watching.

While there's no data proving that dolphins prefer cartoons over nature documentaries, researchers believe TV could remain a useful "enrichment device" and cognitive experimental tool for better understanding marine life, "as long as sex, species, and individual differences are taken into consideration when interpreting results."

Good to know dolphins might like to Netflix and chill just like us.

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