Oh, my God Natalia.
They are so cute.
-They're So cute and so smart!
- I know that people sometimes will initially just think, oh, they're, they're cute.
They're so adorable.
But there's so much more to otters.
They're very intelligent.
I think that it's good for people to continue to learn about them, to want to know more about them and what could they do to help them.
Welcome to Animal IQ, in each episode, we rank the intelligence of an animal using our domains of intelligence, ecological, social, rational awareness, and an X factor.
Since animal intelligence is difficult to directly compare.
We talked to experts, we read the scientific research and we bring our own expertise to fill in our rubric.
In this episode, we are diving into the intelligence of otters and I am so excited to see how the puppies of the sea.
Do on our rubric.
I have been waiting for us to get to otters for so many episodes.
They are one of my favorite animals, and I've always looked at them as fairly smart, but mostly just vessels for cuteness.
So I'm pretty pumped to learn more about them Something we haven't seen much yet on Animal IQ is tool use and otters use tools.
They will take rocks and use them to crack open the shells of clams and snails so they can eat them.
This example of tool use is pretty rare and shouldn't bump up their ecological score, but it doesn't seem like they're learning this tool use from parents or siblings.
It's more than they need to learn to use tools when resources are scarce.
Otters are definitely tool users and here at Shedd, I'm sure that if we gave them a tool, they would use it, but we have to be pretty aware that they could also, if we had little shells and things to give them, they could scratch our glass.
So instead they are still finding ways to manipulate things.
Whether it's like if we give them shellfish in a natural habitat an otter would probably have its rock and help him open the shellfish, whereas our otters will just look to what's around them.
And what hard surface can they bang it onto.
I am really glad that you got to talk to Christie Sterling from shed.
She is super knowledgeable about her otters.
It's really interesting that they don't seem to learn this behavior from each other.
And that aligns with a couple of other studies that I was reading from 2017, where researchers gave otters puzzles to solve both a puzzle box and also a rope puzzle, which was similar to the example that we saw in our elephants episode.
They had to do this puzzle together, and that tells us a lot.
We just want to keep them mentally stimulated so that can involve different enrichment devices, you know, toys, or giving them different puzzles to work on.
We can put in this whole maze, there's different shelves.
We'll put a little theater ball in it.
And the sea Otter will work its way out.
Some were very naturally inclined and just picked up to it and caught to it right away.
And some over time have really worked on understanding the concept of it and gaining speed.
So otters will live in semi cooperative groups in the wild and that main research was wonder, can Otter solve a quantum task?
Like the task where if two otters pulled together, they can get a food reward.
If the otters just full alone, they won't get.
I remember reading about this and they didn't do so hot, right?
It would seem the auditors either didn't have the self-control to wait or they didn't know that they needed a partner to get the treat.
So again, not great for social measure, but fascinating nonetheless, and the puzzle boxes they gave them made this even more personal.
I've used puzzle boxes with lions as well.
And they are a great way to ask questions about animal's ability to solve problems, to cooperate, to solve problems and socially learn from each other, like research was done with otters.
So researchers looked at otters trying to figure out who might work together.
And then they gave these otters a cooperative puzzle to see if they did in fact, work together in one species the Smooth-Footed Otter, if an individual watched another individual solved puzzle box, we could then solve it faster.
And that does indicate social learning.
But in the Short-Clawed otter, they were terrible.
They didn't find any evidence for social learning in the species.
So it seems like social learning probably isn't a valuable skill to all otters and their social domain score isn't that great, but it's really does give credence to their ecological domain So we know a lot about their social domains, their ecological domains, but there's still more that we should find out.
Each Otter is different.
They're like kids in school and they learn individually.
Whereas we might have one Otter that's like in the game and like picking up and understanding what we're looking for.
We're trying to teach them.
We might have to maybe work on a certain step longer with another sea otter.
Some are a little more confident than others, I would say.
So when you're introducing something new, some might be like, sure, no problem.
And others might be like new object.
What is this?
I need to get used to it.
We accommodate for each specific Otter, whatever speed they need to learn.
Is it just me or do you and Christie have like the best jobs ever.
You learn about animals all day.
You hang out with them, you listen to lion's roar and otters chatter.
Do they chatter?
Is that what they do?
I've never thought of otters is particularly vocal.
But they do use within group and between group communication.
So giant otters will call to each other.
If they're separated from their group and they can recognize the calls with their individual group members.
They definitely do vocalize.
Again, we don't know what their vocalizations mean, but we know that sometimes we will hear them vocalizing when maybe, one's in one habitat and the other's in another habitat.
So possibly they're vocalizing to each other.
So researchers use a playback experiment and they would play the call of a familiar group member to a listener otter.
And they just keep playing that call until the listening Otter got really sick of hearing it and got bored.
Then they'd switch it up and play the call the new otter.
And when the listening otter heard the new otter, it would perk up again.
That sounds super annoying, like a scientific version of the Alan, Alan Marmot from the memes from a while back.
But I guess it does tell us a little bit more about their social interaction.
I feel like contact is a lot of the ways that they have communication, whether it's, you know, making contact, touching each other, grooming each other.
But they do vocalize, but it's, it's not all the time.
It's just kind of here and there and we're not quite sure what it means.
So otters are fairly intelligent about some things, but not everything like with a lot of our animals.
We don't seem to know much about their awareness, which is to me just a more research is needed indicator, but they have a lot of odd behaviors as well, right?
They keep us on our toes.
That is for sure they are animals that are very active.
And, um, it's definitely our job to keep them engaged and make their day really fun.
One thing that I think is great is they juggle rocks and we think that they do it when they're we're hungry.
And another otter in an aquarium in Seattle, who's trained to use an inhaler to treat it's asthma, which I can relate to because I have asthma I would love to have an otter bring me my inhaler.
And yet another otter in Oregon was trained to dunk a basketball to treat its arthritis.
So although otters might not do best on our rubric, they definitely have some skills.
Speaking of rubric, a quick reminder, directly comparing intelligence of animals is not something that experts like to do, but our rubric is a way that we can use some of the scientific research to see exactly where we think animals might fall now based on our domains.
And here's how those auditors measure up.
They're amazing at things like tool use and interaction with other auditors, they're social, they understand individuality, at least on some level they can communicate, they can solve problems.
They are actually even more remarkable than I thought.
Not just cute, but great brains too.
And as for the X factor, I think put them right in the middle, we, as humans can identify with them, who hasn't seen the pictures of the otters holding hands.
They seem to care for each other.
So they really just seem to enjoy life, and be a bit mischievous, which is something we can all aspire to?
What do y'all think?
Otters super smart, super cute.
Both what animals should we put to the test in our next rubric?
Let us know.
And thanks so much for watching Animal IQ.