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Do Dolphins Prefer Radiohead?

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DOLPHIN
A yoga instructor recently said the dolphins she worked with seemed to enjoy music by Radiohead. | Getty

Thought to be one of the most intelligent species on the planet, dolphins have been shown to possess self-awareness and complex communicative abilities, as well as the capacity to use tools, recognize and remember "names," and problem-solve.

This week, rumors are swirling that yet another incredible skill could be added to the marine mammal's seemingly bottomless bag of tricks: music appreciation.

In an interview with RadarOnline, yoga instructor Willow Withy said the dolphins she interacts with at Siegfried & Roy's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat in Las Vegas seem to have the ability to appreciate certain kinds of music. Specifically, Withers said, they seem to have a particular love for English rock band Radiohead.

Withy, who hosts "Yoga with the Dolphins" classes at the dolphin enclosure at the Mirage Hotel, said:

Our dolphins seem to really resonate with Radiohead music, and especially the song 'Lotus Flower. As soon as I put it on, they come up to the window and their play patterns become more fluid, friendly, and they are curious about what is going on in the yoga room. They rub against the windows, walls, and express more sensory connection. It feels like mutually shared experience as they appreciate the yoga and music together. I would say they are happy […]

The speakers do not go into the water, but through the windows the dolphins absorb the vibrations of the music. Dolphins don’t have great hearing, but hear and see through sonar resonance. It is how they interpret the world.

Withy, who conducts the sessions in a windowed room attached to the dolphin enclosure, added that the animals seem to also enjoy the sitar music of Anoushka Shankar and that they've taken to imitating her (such as flipping over in the water when does a headstand) when she's practicing yoga.

Intrigued by Withy's observations, we turned to dolphin expert Diana Reiss to see what she had to say about these playful creatures and their supposed penchant for Radiohead and yoga.

Reiss, a professor of cognitive psychology at Hunter College who has researched dolphins for three decades, told The Huffington Post that though Withy's comments are fascinating, they should be taken with a grain of salt.

For one thing, Reiss said that the yoga instructor got one crucial fact totally wrong. Though Withy claims that dolphins have poor hearing and rely on echolocation to experience the world, Reiss says that aside from their extraordinary biological sonar, dolphins "have excellent hearing and really good vision."

As for the claim that these dolphins love Radiohead, Reiss said: "It's hard to really comment because I don't know all the specifics, but I think it's possible that these dolphins find certain rhythms and frequencies interesting."

According to Reiss, there's currently a lack of scientific research about dolphins and their preference for music. However, she says that there is some evidence to suggest that dolphins do respond to rhythm, and there are some anecdotal claims that dolphins are able to respond to music in general.

The professor also noted the dolphins could have been responding to the movement of the people in the room, rather than the music that was playing. As dolphins are extremely intelligent, she says it wouldn't surprise her if the animals were reacting out of interest to the movements of Withy and her students during a yoga session.

Though Reiss was cautious when quizzed about the dolphins' potential capacity for music appreciation, she was unequivocal in her response regarding the animals' ability to copy Withy's yoga movements.

"Oh, we've definitely seen that before," she exclaimed. "Dolphins are highly imitative animals. They learn by watching others in their social group and imitating what they do. Often, this imitation will include imitating others who are not dolphins as well."

Cruelly slaughtered for their meat in some countries and killed en masse as fishing by-catch in many others, dolphins need international protection. To learn more about these amazing animals and how to help them, visit the websites of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation and the American Cetacean Society.

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