Dolphins are smart. That’s not headlining news. What might be, however, is just how smart they are. Everyday characters know fundamental things about dolphins. We know they are social creatures. We know they hunt together. We know they warn each other of predators. We know they work in groups to raise offspring. But just how smart are they?
As it turns out, their encephalization quotient (the ratio of brain size to body size) is the biggest of any animal besides a human. This means they are most likely closer in intelligence to people than our closest related primate.
Florida dolphins have been reported using complex group strategies when hunting for food. So complex, actually, that each member of a group will have a specific job with specific obligations. For example, one dolphin will make a wall of kicked up mud. The other will call out to other dolphins when they have entrapped a school in the wall. Other dolphins will approach and surround the school to maximize the amount of fish and efficiency of energy.
One group of dolphins off the coast of Sydney covers their rostrums with sponges when diving in sharp corals to avoid damage to their face. In Shark Bay, dolphins have been seen using conch shells to scoop up small fish. What this means is that not only can they learn at an accelerated rate compared to most mammals, but they can communicate and educate each other based on their own individual experiences.
Dolphins have been known to be one of only a few species that pass the mirror test—when they see an image of themselves, they know it’s them. That’s right; they’re self-aware.
We know dolphins exuberantly express both empathy and altruism in the countless accounts of dolphins bringing humans to the surface to breathe. Also, they are known to mourn their dead.
It is said that the best way to measure something’s intelligence (including human children) is to watch it play. While most intelligent animals have some sort of play, dolphins are (not surprisingly at this point) extraordinary. For example, not only do they play with each other, but it’s quite organized. It has been reported that they will play catch with small sea turtles, passing them back and forth to each other with their flippers and other body parts.
Very recently Bottlenose dolphins have been seen catching and torturing fugu (small pufferfish), releasing their tetrodotoxins. High doses will cause death, but dolphins have learned the right amount to reach a euphoric high. That’s right—not only have dolphins discovered medicine, but they use it recreationally.
With all of this new information on dolphin’s intelligence, why are they constantly exploited for cheap tricks and entertainment? As discussed in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, where is the thin line between beast and being? As it turns out, this is happening in real life. In 2010, a manifesto was launched entitled “Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans: Whales and Dolphins.” The document is a plea to end misconduct on dolphins including fishing, pollution, and slavery.
Joe Rogan empathizes with dolphins in his special, Triggered.
“What if they are exactly the same as us? What if it was just some branch of evolution? We went one way, they went the other… they are just living life through different biology, different genetics, different life experience… what if that’s the secret to happiness? Treat everyone as if it is you living another life.”
OK, maybe we are pretty far off from giving dolphins the right to vote. But maybe they do need a little more empathy.