HOW INTELLIGENT ARE DOLPHINS?
they as intelligent as humans? What's your opinion? Are you
one of those who believe that dolphins are highly intelligent
... just as intelligent as humans in fact?
Or would you
say (bottom line) that they're no more intelligent than a dog,
meaning that they can be trained to obey simple commands, but
can't be expected to contribute much to discussions on the
meaning of life.
are someone who believes that dolphins are MORE intelligent
than humans, and that those sleek and adorable mammals
swimming alongside the tourist boat may be giggling together
in dolphinese about the colour of the inhabitants' swimwear.
You know, there's even talk of dolphins originally belonging
to a super-species from outer space that came to Earth to
rank dolphins as -
One step closer to an answer
intelligence of dolphins is a long-running argument, and it's
far from over. But recently, according to researchers working
at an American aquarium, we got one step closer to the answer.
researchers announced that dolphins could do something that
only humans and apes were thought to be capable of doing. What
did they do? They looked at themselves in a mirror. And
exactly why is that so exciting ... ? Here's why ...
It's all to do with how you can measure a dolphin intelligence. As you can imagine, it's very hard to come up with a way to measure the intelligence of dolphins - or indeed any animal. Have you got a way you'd go about it?
look at the face of a dolphin, they certainly look
intelligent. They can even
interact when a human talks to them. But then so do many
animals, including my Jack Russell dog. 'Scrabble' tips her
head from side to side when you talk to her as if she's taking
in every word.
But as of
yesterday, when she stashed a large piece of leftover quiche
in the bottom of my bed (ready for later?), I refute any
claims that she is 'intelligent'! Similarly perhaps the
dolphin's sincere eyes and highly domed brow are signs that
there is some highly advanced mental processing going on
inside, but then again, perhaps it's just a result of the
shape of their bones.
brain size would be another way to go, but although this was a
popular option at one stage, most scientists now agree it
can't be relied on. The cow, for example, has a ratio of brain
mass to body weight that is similar to the dolphin, but it's
worth noting that not many people argue that cows are
about an intelligence test?
intelligence test that works across different species is
incredibly difficult. For example, humans are impressed by
someone who is quick at mental arithmetic ... but is an
ability to do long multiplication a fair way to assess the
brainpower of a dolphin ... ?
are rightly proud of our ability to invent and use tools. But
again, is that a fair way to assess other species, given that
most household gadgets are tricky to use when you've only got
flippers on the ends of your arms?
So, in an
effort to tackle the problem, scientists have come up with a
list of abilities that they say can be associated with
'advanced intellectual ability'.
where the mirror test comes in.
Try it yourself
you've been invited to take part in a (painless and safe)
experiment to compare human intelligence with the intelligence
of other animals. You accept the invitation. A scientist walks
towards you with something in his or her hand. Moments later
you feel something damp brush against your cheek. Then you're
given a mirror, what do you do?
It's not a
trick. You look in the mirror, right?
the side of your fact to see if it's got paint on it. You
twist your face around to get a good look.
don't smile, Fact is, you know it's 'your' face and that makes
it 'ok' to stare. You'd feel quite different if you stepped up
to what you thought was a mirror, only to find it was a sheet
of glass with someone else's face looking through!
Dolphins and mirrors
In the case
of the dolphins what happened was that researchers put
non-toxic ink marks on the sides of the dolphins' bodies and
then let the dolphins swim up to a mirror.
peered at the marks on their sides, angling their bodies to
look at them better. This shows they could recognise
themselves. That's exciting in itself.
A sense of self
interestingly, the dolphins looked longer at marks on their
own sides than at marks on another dolphin. This shows that
they 'cared' more about their own bodies than about their
sounds a tad selfish then that's exactly why it's so exciting
to the researchers.
this one piece of evidence will not settle the debate - it's
just one more clue to add to the 'big picture'. According to
Jeff Weir of the Dolphin Research Institute here in Victoria,
the ability to recognise yourself is important, but it doesn't
mean we have evidence that dolphins have anything as advanced
as human intelligence.
Based on his
own experiences with dolphins, which includes ten years of
trying to ensure their conversation, he ranks the intelligence
of the dolphin somewhere around that of a very smart dog.
They are, he
says, the most amazing and special creatures, but our desire
to imagine they are 'super-intelligent' reveals more about our
own species than it does about these 'smiling ambassadors for
credit: The Dolphin Research Institute