This animal species is one of the most intelligent on the planet, for several reasons.
Dolphins are one of the most valued and popular animals in the world. It is an animal species that has inspired human beings since ancient times, with even romantic overtones and is often a symbol of freedom, peace and joy.
Among its many qualities, the intelligence of dolphins is one of the most valued, along with its sociability and capacity for empathy both with its species and with others (including humans). And it is that the dolphin has been identified along with other cetaceans, primates, elephants and some species of birds such as crows as one of the most intelligent non-human animal species (surpassing many of them in capacity). Throughout this article we are going to observe different curiosities and information related to its high cognitive capacity.
What does it mean to be smart?
Before going to see different data and curiosities that help us see the great potential and intelligence of dolphins, we should do a brief review of what we consider intelligence.
Although there are multiple theories and models in this regard, we can briefly define intelligence as the capacity or set of intellectual capacities that allow a living being to successfully adapt to the environment that surrounds it, being able to solve more or more problems. less complex and use the resources available both in the subject itself and in the environment in the most efficient way possible. This implies the ability, among other aspects, to organize mental content, restructure and shape it, and even a certain capacity for abstraction.
Although traditionally this ability has been linked and focused almost exclusively on humans, the truth is that there are many animal species that display considerable and intelligent behaviors. And among them, the dolphin stands out, which presents behaviors and a brain structure that make this species think of it as one of the most intelligent animals. Some even think that, had they had opposable hands and thumbs, they could even exceed our abilities.
Curiosities about the intelligence of dolphins
Most people know that dolphins are very intelligent beings, but the truth is that there is a lot of information that is unknown or that can draw attention to this issue. Here we leave you a series of interesting facts about these beings that make us appreciate the high level of intelligence of dolphins.
1. They have a language
Dolphins not only have great intelligence, but also capabilities that until a few centuries ago were considered the exclusive heritage of human beings. One of them is that of language. Like other cetaceans such as whales, it has been observed that dolphins enjoy a complex communication system based on their characteristic clicks, being able to identify different elements with them and even apparently refer to their emotional state.
2. They have their own name
Linked to the above, different investigations have verified that the human being is not the only creature that is symbolically identified by its peers, with a distinctive proper name for each of us. And it is that it has been verified through the registration of their language that dolphins use these whistles to address others, having whistles that identify other subjects.
3. They use tools
One of the aspects that has been most linked to cognitive ability is the ability to use existing resources in the environment creatively in order to achieve a specific goal. Dolphins have been observed to be capable of this, using among other things marine sponges when searching for food among corals. This requires considerable cognitive skills, understanding the fact that they can experience harm and the need to use an item to avoid it, as well as find it and put it to practical use.
4. They have sex for pleasure
Most animals reproduce only in seasons when females are fertile. Dolphins, like some primates and humans, are one of the few animals that do not consider sex only in their fertile phases, but have sex regularly for the sole purpose of obtaining pleasure. In addition to this, they carry out different courtship behaviors that they seem to enjoy.
5. Accompany in the last moments
When a dolphin is in its last moments, it is possible to observe how its group tends to help its own bodies to rise to the surface, in such a way that the creature can keep its blowhole (the hole through which they breathe) out of the water in order to be able to breathe more comfortably to alleviate your suffering. It is a sample not only of the intelligence of dolphins, but also of the ability to empathize of these creatures.
6. Military dolphins
The use of animals in the context of warfare has been relatively common throughout history. They were generally used as transport or as a fundamental element to cause harm (horses, camels, elephants and dogs are good examples of this) or to communicate (as in the case of pigeons).
Although it is not something especially known by the majority of the population, some cetaceans have also been used in the military establishment. The high intelligence of dolphins and their ability to emit and perceive ultrasound have been used to detect underwater mines, boats and divers. They can also transport and lay mines (fleeing after laying) and even serve as soldiers to attack divers and boats. Their use was frequent during the cold war and even today some armies continue to use them.
7. They can commit suicide
Although animal suicide is highly debated, it has been observed that many dolphins seem to decide to end their life either by stopping breathing (in the dolphin, breathing is not unconscious and automatic but requires control on their part), feeding or even repeatedly bumping into rocks or objects. This requires sufficient cognitive capacity to understand what death is and how it can be caused, a capacity that dolphins seem to have.
8. They have culture
A sample of the intelligence of dolphins is their ability to transmit knowledge to their peers. It has been observed how in some cases of dolphins that have been in captivity how, after having been taught some skill or way of doing certain actions, these ended up being replicated by a large part of their group, having been transmitted learned from the original.
It has also been observed that the language or the way of communicating can vary between different groups of these animals, and the existence of learned “dialects” can be observed. Likewise, social play, mutual cooperation, taking care of other people’s offspring and the transmission of hunting strategies have been seen as signs of culture within these animals.
9. Your brain structure is complex
The intelligence of dolphins has been an element that has aroused the curiosity of many people, having carried out different analyzes and investigations in this regard. At the neuroanatomical level, it has been observed that they present a very complex brain structure, with a very high level of encephalization (it was even proposed that in some cases they even possess greater intellectual capacity than humans) and a size that on average exceeds ours. In fact, it is one of the animals that has the largest brain in relation to its body size.
10. They recognize themselves in the mirror
Some classic experiments carried out with different animals such as dolphins show that they have the ability to recognize themselves in the mirror. This implies the notion of a Self different from the rest, the recognition of one’s own characteristics and actions and the fact that a reflection is not a different creature that is imitating us but the product of a refraction. We are facing one more sample of the intelligence of dolphins.
11. They empathize with other species
Possibly we have seen in a movie how a dolphin saves a swimmer or a castaway from a shark attack or from drowning. Although it may seem an exaggeration or even a display of romance, the truth is that it is something that happens in reality.
And it is that dolphins have the ability to empathize not only with beings of the same species but also with those of others. There are multiple cases in which these animals (and we are talking about animals in the wild, not trained for it) have saved the lives of many people by acting as bait or by surrounding a group of dolphins to a human being in order to protect them. This protective behavior directed at other species has also been observed, as in some cases of whales attacked by sharks. They are able to understand that another creature is suffering or, in our case, that it is drowning, something that requires a high intellectual capacity.
12. Non-human persons
Due to the very high level of intelligence of dolphins and their multiple cognitive abilities, different movements and proposals have appeared so that dolphins receive the consideration of “non-human persons”, making them holders of the same rights. This has happened in India, where the Central Zoo Authority has banned shows with these animals, as well as in Costa Rica, Hungary and Chile. Also different zoos in Spain, such as Barcelona, have prohibited such shows.
In addition, some organizations have requested the approval of the declaration of rights of cetaceans, based on the high sensitivity and intelligence of these beings.
- King, SL & Janik, VM (2013). Bottlenose dolphins can use learned vocal labels to address each other. PNAS.