Dolphins really are that smart!

By Rania Watts

They are Aquatic animals with large brains and as a result, there is also a dolphins versus humans’ intelligence discussion; Also a big debate on the sensory evolution of these creatures, who are impacted by environmental and social issues. 

Dolphins have the capacity to exhibit various human characteristics, and mirror self-recognition. SAs humans we think this is foreign to an aquatic animal, but is clearly exhibited in them. Dolphins have the ability to learn vocal behaviour as well.

The one species of dolphin that has been researched the longest is a spotted dolphin. Spotted dolphins have the capacity to not only acknowledge communication by various sounds in their whistling, but also the ability to cook up some pretty intricate plans riddled with subterfuge.

Dolphins are indeed one of the most intelligent (or self aware) creatures on this planet; they share a common link with hoofed animals – as dolphins were originally land mammals and the first cetacations to enter the water 55 million years ago — as large predators with very sharp teeth. 

With the shift of ocean temperatures 35 million years ago it reduced the availability of prey. The mammals who survived this intrusion were the odontocetes which ended up being smaller with significantly less sharp teeth. Oddly enough with less sharp teeth, and a larger more intricate and comprehensive brain-  meant the ability for echolocation for the purpose of communication was a massive benefit. Echolocation was used to both communicate and navigate. 

A contemporary dolphin’s brain is so massive, in relative size to their body. They are creatures of a similar size brain in relation to their bodies, compared only second to humans. Dolphins have survived via their ability to form complex social networks that hunt, ward off rivals and raise offspring together. It is genuinely a complex plan that dolphins in Florida have concocted to be able to hunt fish.This specific fishing plan involves their entire community. It starts as one dolphin designated as the net marker who kicks up a bit of mud, whilst the other dolphins give signals for when to be ready to start gathering and catching fish.

I don’t think anyone realises the planning that goes into something like this. I suddenly feel like I’m writing about the aquatic equivalent to George Orwell’s Animal Farm!

I relish the idea of communications methods that are passed down from generation to generation. One might call it an aquatic oral tradition that is passed through the generations. Dolphins can express a variation of greetings hunting, hunting strategies and other behaviours. Cultural transmission extends to the use of groups of dolphins over the Australian Coast – Bottlenose Dolphins – nicknamed “the dolphins sponge club”; quite brilliant really.  Dolphins cover their noises with a sponge, whilst navigating through sharp coral to ensure that they don’t scratch themselves.

In addition, dolphins also have their own intricate language of comprehension based on whistle and hand gestures. They do not only understand the signal but also the purpose and meaning of the actual order of the signal. I had no idea! Oddly enough, dolphins are one of the few creatures which pass the mirror test.  Essentially they have the capacity to recognise not only themselves but also the emotions they feel. If that is not intelligence I do not know what is? 

This video beautifully explains the intelligence of dolphins. 

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