'Awareness' in animals
The Earth’s crust is populated with life forms that possess endless forms of morphology, physiology, and behaviors that have evolved amidst continuously changing environments. Among them, many warm-blooded animals possess complex, cognitive, characteristics that embellish them to have a 'higher level of consciousness' or interactive awareness of their surroundings.
It would seem that most invertebrates are hard-wired to react to stimulus that should be present in the environment they've evolved in (cephalopods are an exception, which reveals that there is no concrete plan for where these qualities show up in animals), while mammals and birds have more complexities to their mental functioning. Among even this group of animals, a few individual species possess a heightened ability in processing their environment, other animals, and more interestingly, themselves.
Dolphin Intelligence: Let's Get Real
It seems as though I always have to be the 'bad guy' for the sake of common sense and logic. Dolphins and other cetaceans are known to be some of the ‘smartest’ animals in the world beside humans, along with elephants, great apes, and corvids (the 'crow' family), however, despite the existence of no convincing evidence, many people believe that they are almost as smart, as smart, or even smarter than humans. Well, I’m not going to say ‘zero evidence’. There is also evidence that aliens have visited Earth, so possibly, there is also some that dolphins possess more 'intelligence' than humans. But it really depends on how you (wish to) see things.
Although I would argue that what humans seem to possess over other animals shouldn't technically be classified as mere 'smarts', how a person defines the term intelligence is tantamount to how they perceive the intelligence of cetaceans and humans.
Intelligence can be measured by rate of learning, what an animal is capable of learning such as abstract concepts, measuring the extent of an animal's creative solution to a novel situation, self-awareness, and memorization ability. (Click here for a look at these characteristics in dolphins.)
Most importantly and more relevantly, intelligence can be defined as awareness. These are all areas that humans have excelled in, so dolphins would have their work cut out for them to beat humans and present these qualities in an observable fashion.
'Intelligent' behaviors should also be separated from behaviors that are innate. It may be of course, difficult to assess these levels of 'intelligence' among another species without possible error deriving from an anthropomorphized view of intelligence and relation to the human condition (more on that later).
Dolphins have fins, I realize this. So I cannot judge them on their short-comings with activities in which dexterity predisposes humans to success. However, that is not an adequate excuse for the many observable characteristics of dolphins that indicate that they appear to have a higher degree of an instinctual relationship with their surroundings when compared to humans.
While some (not all) dolphins are playful and curious in ways that is not often seen in the rest of the animal kingdom, much of their behavior is oriented around more 'natural' needs; that of gathering food, social hierarchy, protecting territory, and avoiding predation.
Something else that I find interesting is that these animals do not seem to make intelligent connections toward the role humans may play in their possible predation. This is essential because while it might be hard to disprove that another species might have their own species-driven reasons for not having interest in concepts we relate to a higher mental state (music, art, language, technology) that are important to humans, avoiding death (and increasing fitness) is a fundamental interest of every living thing.
To quickly synopsis the current consensus on dolphin capabilities: they seem to be capable of behaviors and cognitive abilities that exceed other animals like dogs, monkeys, and pinipeds. In even more specific tests, they have demonstrated proficiency in some concepts that have exceeded the abilities of chimpanzees (such as understanding objects that are being pointed to), however this may be influenced by the fact that dolphins have a unique spatial relationship with their surroundings that primates do not possess due to their echo-locative abilities.
It may not be so much an example of enhanced 'intelligence' as it is a unique sensory ability (combined with an extant level of awareness), so the role that this unusual sense plays in many of these studies needs to be considered.
Cetaceans have been shown to be self-aware like chimps, elephants, and some corvids, reacting to their mirror image with interest and awareness that it is themselves being depicted. They have higher levels of observational learning, can come up with some 'creative solutions', and have been taught some basic syntax by humans.
Humans teach dolphins
All this, however interesting and desperately needing more research committed to it (creating a case for dolphin captivity to continue as well) does not provide evidence for the ridiculous proposition that dolphins are smarter than humans. Common sense would drive one to realize that a dolphin would not be able to 'learn syntax' without human aid (operant conditioning), and that our command of this and the other aforementioned qualities are unparalleled.
Very few, if any 'intelligent' skills that animals have been tested for have shown them to come out on top of homo sapiens. It is also amazing, I think, that we have such a vested interest in communicating with this species in their own language (not nearly reciprocated by them to the same degree). I think it's clear language is a major part of human 'intelligence'.
Without this incredible development, nothing...from myself writing on this computer, to humans inventing computers, to humans even thinking about inventing a computer, would be possible.
Lacking a language that can communicate such essential information that consists of ideas, readings of our immediate environment and providing complex insight into our internal individual needs will have a profound effect on how an animal perceives its environment.
Therefore, dolphins lacking a truly complex language that cannot communicate for instance...the sentence "the sky is blue", are going to be strictly disadvantaged. I have learned that humans are only as smart as what they learn. Spanish, French, and Swahili are certainly not innate languages and are 100% artificial. Grunt at a human for their entire childhood, and they will know nothing better. This has been observed with the so-called feral children.
Human babies are born the most helpless out of all of the intelligent animals and birds. There is an interesting theory that human language developed through mother communication to a helpless infant.
Whatever the case may be for our unique qualities, there are clearly fundamental differences between humans and dolphins, with dolphins clearly being disadvantaged due to what they lack compared to humans.
It's feasible I believe that some animals could have similar 'intelligence' to humans based on current evidence if we were to analyze elements such as memory capacity and some more basic mathematical concepts that can be achieved without the advantage of the heightened informational exchange that exists in the complex human language forms.
Some may try to make the case that dolphins are intelligent in other species-specific ways (social, environmental, or some form of awareness that we are incapable of understanding), or relative to the features that they lack. Well, I think the same can be said for many more animals.
Humans have an inherent desire to glamorize dolphins
I often hear the claim, "dolphins are definitely smarter than humans". "Dolphins are smarter than some people". "Dolphins are too smart for captivity".
When I ask them to back up their statement, the response I usually receive is precisely one of these three sentiments:
- Backtracking, and criticism on my part for having even asked the question.
- A description of a feat that a dolphin has accomplished, such as teaching young to hunt, tool-use, or 'helping' humans to fish...which of course, does not exceed a human's ability to do the same thing in the least bit.
- An explanation that amounts to 'dolphins are more intelligent because they don't destroy the planet, aren't greedy, and don't start wars like humans'.
When it comes to the subject of cetacean attributes, throughout my research of this subject I end up being more amazed by human behavior over the accomplishments that dolphins have exhibited. Many people appear to have some form of a moral obligation to elevate this specific species’ status over humans in almost every situation.
Why do humans become so angry at this question?
What many people don't seem to understand is this: When I propose that dolphins are not as intelligent as humans, I’m surely not suggesting that they are not intelligent at all and should be treated like an inanimate object, but the level of offense that people take over this issue is near religious, and they then behave as though I am oppressing a minority group.
Once, I was called ‘evil’ for suggesting that dolphins possess the intelligence of a 2 year old human. Being labeled words like ‘arrogant’, egotistical, and other versions of maintaining an ignorant and unsubstantiated superiority complex is common.
More on the violence of cetaceans
- Dolphins Are Getting Away with Murder
The purpose of this hub is to debunk the fanciful myth that dolphins and killer whales are superior to humans in conducting an ethical way of living, and I question if they are capable of possessing complex ethical thoughts to begin with.
How can humans be the only 'smart' animal?
I understand that it is odd that humans are so different from the rest of the animals. This is an obvious contributor toward our mentality that we are 'not animals' or that we should be the Earth's 'stewards'. Yet, it would still be equally odd if such intelligent qualities were only limited to humans and dolphins.
My understanding is that much of a human’s need to appreciate dolphins is something of a self-inflicted fantasy, or a guilt trip due to the human's dominant position in the animal kingdom.
It is extraordinarily common for people to insist that the negative actions of humans are examples of their non-intelligence. Because humans engage in wars, ‘destroy their own environment’, and prefer to do things that are looked down upon by Buddhist principals such as owning possessions, aggrandizing, and controlling other aspects of their environment, many insist that dolphins are ‘more intelligent’ because they perceive abstaining from these actions as enlightened or intellectual.
Destructive or amoral tendencies do not equate to 'stupidity'
A human’s ability to perceive that they are doing 'bad' things and form their own opinions on it is yet a great example of how different humans are from dolphins.
The ideologies of humans vary tremendously. Do dolphins examine their existence relative to the planet and their impacts on others? Do they have conflicting opinions? Or am I supposed to believe that they are ‘so intelligent’ that they voluntarily refrain from all this, which may be the defensive thinking of most supporters of dolphin superiority. Many people may also believe that dolphins have a pacifist attitude, but this porpoise disagrees:
Cultural preferences involving death
The animal in the above picture was killed by a bottlenose dolphin. The impalement marks from the dolphin's beak are clearly visible, to indicate the severity of this death. No one really knows why this occurs, but many give natural reasons such as competition for food (ironically, Japanese fisherman involved in dolphin drives give the same excuse), hormonal outbursts, and even 'practice' for their own infanticide (not a very rosy reason). Either way, this is most likely another example of innate behavior related to sexual aggression, and no other dolphins seem to be objecting to it.
There have been many instances of violence inflicted on other species with comparable intelligence to themselves by dolphins.
Orca whales eat other dolphins, but apparently they do not have to, as it is said this is a cultural preference. Other groups of killer whales named 'residents' subsist exclusively on fish. If this is so, this means that orca whales have a choice on whether or not to torture and kill members of their own kind.
It would be a lot like humans exclusively choosing to consume chimpanzees and gorillas, stealing their children and devouring them in front of their distraught mothers. Yet, it is even worse because orca whales (who are also dolphins) are more similar to their prey than humans are to chimps. Orca whales, aside from this dietary preference, have been documented on numerous occasions eating small amounts of or not even eating any of their dispatched prey.
Orca whales could probably perceive and understand the suffering they are inflicting, but it is apparently meaningless to them. Many humans on the other hand, myself included, care about the suffering their prey goes through. Indeed, we have big moral debates on our own consumption ethics, and it has little to do with our own survival.
Of course, many people can provide natural theories for why all of this occurs, essentially attributing it to mindless animal behavior, and then contradicting their assertions that these animals have moralistic consciousnesses like human societies.
Dolphins become 'basic animals' when the atrocities they commit are brought up, yet I, being a human, am supposed to subject myself to the morality of others. I shouldn't keep pets, eat meat, or enjoy having money. I am bound to fail at any comparison with any animal.
Dolphin intelligence skepticism is rare
Typically, the first instinct of a reader who disagrees with my view of these animals is to defend them, and come up with some reason why a dolphin would abuse an animal that’s practically a member of their own species for non-food purposes. Why are dolphins defended so staunchly?
Why are people so desperate to hope that they possess a mystical form of intelligence and benevolence while humans never get the same appreciation?
This is also ignoring the fact that not all humans fit the stereotypes that violate the ‘make love not war’ mentality that people seem to believe is the height of an intelligent existence. The view that humans are unintelligent because members of their species commit offenses that do not fit the idealized values of other humans is preposterous, and a great example of the misguided thinking that causes the belief of human-esque intelligence being possessed by cetaceans (or maybe not so human).
Many people probably feel a level of guilt over their control of Earth’s resources and commit to the belief that they are a force of evil compared to ‘innocent’ animals. Innocence is a concept understood by humans, and projected on to animals and young children that do not possess higher awareness and ‘do not know better’. Therefore, it’s time for those who wish to consider dolphins 'persons' and fight for their ‘rights’ to make a decision. Are they ‘innocent’ or not? Can they perceive the suffering of others with a caring attitude without human influence like so many humans are able to?
Marie on January 23, 2017:
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on January 19, 2017:
Marie: Google Scholar, and the book Are Dolphins Really Smart?
Marie on December 14, 2016:
Hi Melissa. Loving your articles! Can I ask where you do your research and find the info about animals and intelligence? I feel I want to do some research too because I'm fascinated by the concept of intelligence. Thanks. Keep up the good work!
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on April 18, 2016:
Here's the thing about human language, it is completely artificial. I'm fairly certain prairie dogs didn't come up with their communication systems. I am not a linguist, so I have no idea what a 'regular language' is or if it is actually considered a language of the caliber of a human. What I do know is that I can't find any sites that describe prairie dog communication this way and it is common knowledge that animals do not have language ("Communication systems used by other animals such as bees or apes are closed systems that consist of a finite, usually very limited, number of possible ideas that can be expressed.")
I don't recall suggesting brain mass or processing information as reasons for human intelligence. Or even EQ, but it's been a while since I've written this.
" Well it could be because the coal we've been burning has been releasing lead and mercury and other neurotoxins into the air, which gets into the oceans, and ends up in dolphin flesh at levels far higher than would be lethal for a human."
I'm sorry I don't understand what you are suggesting with this.
"Now do you think they should have said "well africans enslave each other, why should we extend rights to them that they don't to each other?"
Actually I'd have no problem with imprisoning those who are responsible for enslaving people. That's the only 'group' we should remove some rights from. Thing is all humans are the same species, I never said anything about not extending rights to a 'group'. 'All men are created equal' and all that stuff. Dolphins are a species which are just inherently not on an adult human's level. It's not the case that some are and some aren't, they all aren't. Dolphins are 'innocent' because they are animals, all members of their species ill-equipped to take responsibility for their actions. That's why it would be foolish to punish them, however they also don't have rights.
GeatMaster on April 11, 2016:
I probably shouldn't say anything as it inevitably ends in two people talking past each other, but you seem reasonable enough. So I'll start with the claim that dolphins don't have a language.
First I'll go over the classes of language, these are: regular, context-free, and context sensitive. Think of these as a venn diagram with each of the former containing the latter. A regular language can have constructs like a list of adjectives followed by a noun; but not really anything more complex than that. Prairie dogs have this kind of a language ( http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/prairie-dogs-lan... ) and are able to describe ideas such as if a given human has shown up with a gun or not.
The next class is context free, in which you can do things such as replace a verb with a verb phrase, or a noun with a noun phrase, where in a regular grammar this is too complex. The final category is context-sensitive, which adds ideas like former, latter, and prepositions. At the very least dolphins appear to have a context-free language, because they can intuitively understand the difference between "man bites dog" and "dog bites man," something a chimpanzee cannot do with any amount of training. (I saw this in a documentary once and i'm having trouble digging up a source).
So how do we discover if it's a context sensitive language or not? Well we do some digging around and find zipf's law. Which states that the frequency of the most used word in any large enough text, is 1/x, the second most used is 1/2x the third most used is 1/3x, and so on. When graphed on a log-log chart this produces a nice 45 degree line, which is the marker of a context sensitive language. For comparison a regular grammar is more like a 80 degree angle, a programming language around 70 degrees, music around 30 degrees, and random noise is 0 degrees. And this holds true even for languages we haven't translated yet, including the noises produced by dolphins ( http://arxiv.org/abs/1205.0321 ).
Next I'll move onto brains. So let's say you took a rat brain and scaled it up to have the same complexity as a human brain; it would weigh around 75kg and crush itself, because rat brains have bigger neurons. So different lineages have different scaling rules, this is why brain mass can't really be used to determine intelligence; sperm whales and blue whales have gigantic brains, but both have far few neurons than a human. This is what gave rise to the encephalization quotient, which kind of works, but not as well as simply counting the number of neurons in the cortex.
Now i don't know about dolphins as in bottle nosed dolphins, but i do know about pilot whales which are actually dolphins, which has 37.2 billion neurons in the cortex, compared to humans which have 20 billion neurons ( http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC424486... ). Also note that this article says it disproves the notion that more neurons = more intelligence, even though no one has ever done any tests on pilot whale intelligence at all, (they don't really survive in captivity).
Regardless if you were to define intelligence in terms of capacity for processing information, then some species of dolphin would exceed humans.
So, on to higher levels of consciousness: the part of the brain that controls feeling emotions and experience of consciousness is significantly more complex in whales and elephants than in humans ( http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ar.a.20... ).
"But," I hear you cry, "if this is the case then why don't we really have any documented evidence of behaviors indicating higher order intelligence." Well it could be because the coal we've been burning has been releasing lead and mercury and other neurotoxins into the air, which gets into the oceans, and ends up in dolphin flesh at levels far higher than would be lethal for a human.
Finally i'd like to address something you said in another article, that it's weird to consider giving more rights to cetaceans than they give to each other. Leaving aside that you can get gorilla and chimp meat on the black market, and humans do eat each other at times.
Let me use an example from history, so slavery had been outlawed in England since 1102, but it wasn't until the early 1800s that a court case came up which would determine if this should be extended to all english colonies. Now do you think they should have said "well africans enslave each other, why should we extend rights to them that they don't to each other?" or were they right to enforce a naval blockade on all of south america and africa in an attempt to end the slave trade for everyone. Amid protests from African kings such as Gezo, who said in the 1840's he would do anything the British wanted him to do apart from giving up slave trade "The slave trade is the ruling principle of my people. It is the source and the glory of their wealth…the mother lulls the child to sleep with notes of triumph over an enemy reduced to slavery…"
Trying to argue that we shouldn't give rights to a group because they don't offer the same thing to others is disingenuous and you know it.
Andrew on June 04, 2015:
All the efforts in the world to explain its capabilities as some kind of a bodily function, far away from the complexity of its brain.
Science also creates retards that need to live an institution too.
I'm tired of these doctor frankenstin freaks.
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on May 24, 2015:
Kirk--What a refreshing comment, thanks.
Kirk on May 24, 2015:
I've been reading your comments Melissa and I must say that it was a pleasure doing so. There is so much 'woo woo' (not to mention ignorance) in the world today. It's quite refreshing to hear reasoned, erudite arguments. Keep 'dishing out the sauce' sister.
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on April 28, 2015:
I'm curious Leilana, what did you want?
Leilana on April 28, 2015:
A Great Article. Not what I wanted but great
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on April 24, 2015:
"We, smarter than life humans must be raised by our parents for many more years than a dolphins young before we become capable of taking care of ourselves."
Reptiles (except crocodilians) and insects receive NO parental care. They must be the smartest of all!
" When we are sad we may stop eating or worse. Dolphins do this too."
Nearly all animals do this. It's called stress.
"Tell me one thing we humans can do if you remove our hands that dolphins cannot"
Language. Art. Reading.
"60000 word vocabulary"
"What exactly have we taught them that would benefit them in their natural, non human, world?"
Language would help them devise methods to avoid being rounded up in the Faroe Islands.
Michael B. on April 24, 2015:
We, smarter than life humans must be raised by our parents for many more years than a dolphins young before we become capable of taking care of ourselves. We seek out others to help us kind of like a pod. We will do whatever it takes to feed ourselves just like every other animal on the planet. When we are sad we may stop eating or worse. Dolphins do this too. We show emotions as do dolphins. We find a mate and generally stay with them, as do dolphins. Tell me one thing we humans can do if you remove our hands that dolphins cannot, and please keep in mind you have zero knowledge of what a dolphin is saying with its near 60000 word vocabulary, that we speculate they have at the moment. You mentioned that dolphins would be incapable of doing many of the things we have seen them do were it not for human intervintion. What exactly have we taught them that would benefit them in their natural, non human, world? What have we taught them that would make their lives better? The only reason I even give your, humans are smarter idea any thought is that dolphins have not started running fish away from our fishing boats, but maybe they think they have enough food for now that the risk of death isn't worth it. Wonder what they would do if they had the means to create weapons. Our brutality and inconciderate nature does put us on top of the food chain, though im not so certain it makes us smarter.
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on April 19, 2015:
"and hundreds of millennia of practice."
What does that mean? You do realize that dolphins have accomplished their intelligence level millions of years before humans evolved behavioral modernity (a mere 50,000 years ago)?
" If we *could* speak to dolphins, and a human and a dolphin engaged in an argument about abstract philosophy, say, the human would most certainly win."
Of course we'd win. A dolphin would have nothing to say, so the contest would have only one participant.
"However, none of those things are even slightly relevant to the question of whether dolphins are more or less intelligent than humans"
Well I'm telling you right now that the question is invalid, anyway. Don't try to ask me a serious question with that layperson speak 'who's smarter', if I tried to answer that it would make me ignorant. I'm actually addressing what people THINK they're saying. A real measure of intelligence doesn't really exist. We'd have to break it down into categories of cognition and measure the complexity of it.
"We are, by all indications, not a spectacularly successful species, but a spectacularly *failed* species."
If you measure success by not *knowingly overpopulating I suppose humans are the one and only unsuccessful species, since no other animal comprehends overpopulation or exerts actions to stop it. Of course the Earth will be fine, it's a rock. The fauna on its upper crust has been appearing and changing or disappearing for billions of years and there's no reason for it to stop at us. What do you think is going to happen? Humans will reproduce so much we'll start falling off the planet? Please abort the silly Wall·E fantasy. Humans are organisms programmed like all others to procreate. Extinction is a part of all the natural process.
John Kievlan on April 17, 2015:
None of what you say is untrue, technically speaking (though more of it is speculation than you admit), but I think you rather miss the point of the question.
Your article amounts to pointing to all the ways we humans measure the glory of our civilization and saying, "See? We win!" Well, of course we win. We're immeasurably better at the things humans are good at and the things humans (as we presently conceive ourselves) value. After all, we have a formidable toolset, formidable brain processing power, and hundreds of millennia of practice.
And I'll grant you that many people who think dolphins are more intelligent than humans are being rather stupid about it, imagining dolphins as something like a particularly clever human who was unfortunately cursed with fins rather than thumbs.
I'll give you one more thing, even. If we *could* speak to dolphins, and a human and a dolphin engaged in an argument about abstract philosophy, say, the human would most certainly win. No question about it.
However, none of those things are even slightly relevant to the question of whether dolphins are more or less intelligent than humans, when the question is asked by an intelligent and biologically knowledgeable person. Nor is your article. Your article is a rather ill-informed slap in the face to the researchers who are working very hard to answer that question in a way that makes sense.
The question, properly posed, is whether dolphins, given the proper cultural (in the dolphin sense) and educational (in the dolphin sense) background -- which is critical, as, in one of the few truly insightful bits of your article, you noted when you mentioned that intelligence hugely depends on the quantity of knowledge and cognitive skills passed down through the generations -- are capable of processing and acting upon abstract concepts as they relate to dolphin life, dolphin needs, and dolphin values.
Including, by the way, moral concepts; and there is significant evidence that they do understand moral concepts. The fact that many dolphins flout moral concepts is not evidence to the contrary, any more than our many immoral and amoral humans are evidence that humans cannot understand morality.
If you want to add any sense to the discussion, you need to stop thinking of the question as a debate about who is awesomer, humans or dolphins. And while we're on that topic, I would point out that while we're quite accomplished, we're really not particularly awesome. We are within generations of causing our own extinction (and have gleefully caused the extinction of much of the life upon which our own existence depends). It's all well and good that we've mastered lots of abstract concepts, but we sure aren't using them very well as a general rule.
It is a fair question to ask whether, had dolphins mastered the same abstract concepts before we did (assuming, of course, that they are capable, which remains an open question), they would have driven themselves to extinction in a blink of geological time, as we have.
We are, by all indications, not a spectacularly successful species, but a spectacularly *failed* species. I don't mean in terms of the Earth's future -- the Earth will be fine in the end, either way -- but in terms of ours.
And don't respond with some nonsense about how many humans there are. The vast quantity of humans we've made is one of the major reasons we will soon go extinct if we don't change our civilization and behavior -- not proof of how successful we've been.
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on March 11, 2015:
Thank you Brandy.
Brandy Rowland-Wade on March 11, 2015:
"Some people are more certain of everything than I am of anything." Our "large brains" and equally large egos can sometimes cloud the bigger picture - we don't know everything. Even the brightest of scholars, focusing on one area of expertise, have been proven wrong throughout history.
I must say - I thought that this article was well written. The author's opinions were interesting and entertaining.
Here's to open minds and evolution!!
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on February 16, 2015:
Ah, Odin you need to read this article, it is about your type of thinking: https://discover.hubpages.com/education/Stupid-thi...
You're right, dolphins don't need excuses they just do it. (I think you meant sonar)
Odin on February 16, 2015:
Dolphins have radar, dolphins don't go around using stupid excuses (read: religion) to kill other dolphins. Hence, imho, dolphins are smarter than humans :-)
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on February 15, 2015:
As your second link states: "Although the evidence strongly suggests that dolphins do not possess a natural language, like the case for apes..."
These examples are just people running their mouths and postulating, there is no real evidence. I can't find any peer-reviewed articles about the 'holograph' claims. Grasping some basic syntax is not full blown language. Be careful of the 'woo' science surrounding dolphins. It originated with John C. Lilly.
Brad on February 15, 2015:
You lost me at language...
The characteristics and cognitive capabilities described in these two articles suggest strongly that any perception of a lack of dolphin language is in fact simply an inability on our part to comprehend it. They are perfectly capable of being taught language "on our terms", particularly with regard to our syntax, which is somewhat limited in its range of complexity by our vocal medium. The dolphin capability of deftly and fluently comprehending human syntax has mind-boggling implications when coupled with the nature of their much more complex "sono-holographic" medium.
They do language, and syntax, they're just using a kind of word well beyond our understanding at this point
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on November 03, 2014:
"maybe dolphins aren't that smart"
Yes, I agree.
kate on November 02, 2014:
maybe dolphins aren't that smart but possibly these people you talk to about dolphin intelligence get angry because you have such an air of superiority and intelligence around yourself. Just saying it seems like you're very full of yourself from your writing.
Martine on August 23, 2014:
One question remains, how did humans became intelligent? out of trials and errors one would say, genetic evolution, survival instincts? Now remove all laws, social learnings and do not repress natural instincts, what would become of us? a big mess where the strongest wins. Are dolphins smarter than humans? We certainly have one common point, that we want to or not we have to learn to survive. Dolphins learnt in oceans, us on that planet, perhaps humans would be more developed intellectually due to the opportunity, but nothing is telling us that dolphins wouldn't be able to catch up to some extent, that they would not be able to teach us a few tricks too, in the oceans or perhaps on that planet of ours, or to criticize our behaviour. And yes, communication is the all important key to the way we can learn and dolphins seem able and interested, do they wonder if they are being held captive for experiments ? They already figure out the way to be greedy or is it out of survival or was it learnt? (I refer to the case where dolphin hid fish while in captivity to attract bird and therefore get more fish by humans as a reward). Plus dolphins seems self aware and to know how to control their emotions (is it as a result of cause and effect, learnings, survival instinct in their lifespan?). I must admit I'm unsure of the result, since we haven't finished learning ourselves...and that we don't want more errors in our books do we? Which brings my next question, can we trust humans?
Dimitra on June 18, 2014:
Dolphins are actually smarter than humans.
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on May 29, 2014:
Anderson-- No they don't.
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on March 24, 2014:
Joann Brennan on March 24, 2014:
This is one of the most well-written articles I've read on this issue in months. It perfectly captures all of the issues with the anthropomorphic arguments being slung by many (not all... but many) Blackfish fanatics. So I just wanted to take the time to thank you for the great read and great points.
Anderson on February 24, 2014:
Killer whales do have languages.
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on February 12, 2014:
Greg, dolphins do not have a 'language'. The word you're looking for is communication. Humans have managed many ways to communicate with language despite drastic incapacitation, including lack of hearing and sight. Animals have limited capacity to communicate ideas and other representations which is the reason we accomplish amazing feats and they do not. Many people use the excuse that dolphins can't do things because of their fins, but they are not much different from apes, that do have hands.
Greg on February 12, 2014:
Now I am not saying that dolphins are smarter than us, but I believe they are smarter than you are giving them credit for. Let's take Killer Whales for instance. Each pod has their own different language. Also Killer Whales from around the world have different accents. So clearly they have their own intelligent language. Another example of it would be this. A group of 5 Killer Whales in the Arctic are looking for food, they spread out. When one finds one, he calls out and they all come to gather around it. They found a seal on big piece of floating ice. All of a sudden they all start swimming away, then they around again, and line up side by side. Then they start swimming towards the ice at the same time, and just before they hit the ice, they dive down creating a wave to knock the seal off the ice. So obviously they are smart enough to make a plan, carry out and execute said plan. They did it through language. To say they are very intelligent cause they can't communicate with us is very ignorant. Even if they did learn our language, they would never be able to speak it since they lack vocal cords and lips. That argument can work the other way too. Maybe humans aren't that intelligent cause we can't learn dolphin. Other examples, Killer Whale went after Great White Shark, Killer Whale knew to turn shark upside down, which stuns shark. How would the Killer Whale know to do that? They obviously know how to learn on their own. Another example. Killer Whale near a beach, spot a Sea Lion on the beach. Sit there, and watches it, and comes up with a plan to catch it. Not only does he plan it, he practices it. Also comparing what dolphins kill in order to eat, weather it'd be another dolphin or not to humans holds no argument. Humans don't have to hunt for food anymore in order to survive. We are able to farm, make mass amount of food and store it. They simply can't do that, for obvious reasons. If humans all of a sudden had to kill and eat what ever, how many of us would feel bad? Be honest. It's even known that humans that have been stranded to kill other humans an eat them in order to survive. We are animals and the fight to survive is stronger than any morals anyone has.
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on January 02, 2014:
Hi Felicity, here's the thing. Dolphins often get praised for their accomplishments, and people speculate that they could do so much more if they didn't have limited mobility and live in water. Therefore, why is it OK to blame humans for their crimes requiring our complex dexterity and praise dolphins for lack of factory farming their prey? It sounds silly doesn't it? Humans only commit the cruelest acts because they are the most complex thinking...the most intelligent. Animals are not making moral choices to not do what we are doing, plain and simple.
"There's only one species which has shown a cultural preference for eating their own kind .... and well, that's us."
Save for a few psychos amongst us this country with a population of 300 million does not have a cultural preference for eating their own kind. I'm going to guess that it's the same for other developed as well as undeveloped countries. I don't see why the billions of people who don't eat apes are blamed for the tiny minority that does. Another small minority works tirelessly to end that trade, I wonder how many whales and dolphins do the same?
Felicity on January 02, 2014:
There's a lot of assumptions and incorrect information here but the one which I really take issue with is the following:
"Orca whales could probably perceive and understand the suffering they are inflicting, but it is apparently meaningless to them. Many humans on the other hand, myself included, care about the suffering their prey goes through. Indeed, we have big moral debates on our own consumption ethics, and it has little to do with our own survival."
Of all species on this planet, human beings are by far the cruelest when it comes to treatment of their prey. Most of our food lives a short and miserable life (particularly those farmed in factories, such as pigs and chickens) and whilst there is ethical debate over this, it's the dollar that wins out for most people (preferring to pay a cheaper price than make an ethical choice).
Whilst I d0 think it's a bit off that some Orca have a cultural preference for including other species of dolphin in their diet, it's not fair to say that they are eating their own kind. We as humans eat many other species in the primate family (Chimps, Gorillas and Orangutan all feature on the menu for the local people in their respectful countries). As far as I know there isn't a greater genetic disparity between humans and chimps then there is between Orca and Bottlenose Dolphin.
There's only one species which has shown a cultural preference for eating their own kind .... and well, that's us.
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on December 19, 2013:
Thank you Amber, I'm OK with all the bullying comments, I've received so many they are largely ineffective, and I know I'm doing something right when all people can do is sputter hatred towards me without refuting my arguments.
Amber on December 19, 2013:
Hi Melissa, I came across your site after watching blackfish and wanting to do more research afterwards. I had read that specific post and wasn't sure I a) agreed with you or b) cared to read on. But I decided to read other posts because you mentioned something along the lines of not being "pro captivity" so much as being pro responsible captivity which is an opinion I also hold. (Correct me if I'm wrong about that assumption but that was the impression that I got).
After reading this post (and others such as harmless banned animals ... Etc) I think you are very thoughtful in your opinions and even though I don't agree with 100% of what you say I think you state your case very well and I hope you continue to research and discuss issues like these regardless of detractors. The internet is inherently a terrible forum for debate but I think you're doing a good job of staying 'above board' most of the time. (Haha one can only ignore our most base impulses so long when discussing opposing views when you actually care about the opinion you hold).
Also, I have always wanted a cheetah as a pet.
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on December 18, 2013:
Shalini, I have no problem accepting that we are just animals with more intelligence. I only have problems with people saying we are not intelligent (a lie), that animals are more intelligent or equally intelligent (untrue), or that animals have similar standards to us (such as aversion to being owned as a pet).
Shalini on December 18, 2013:
I feel this would not be an issue if human simply accepted that they are just animals albeit more intelligent and are not above any of the innate behaviours animals show.
Tatyana on September 05, 2013:
Aesop's Fables, "The Fisher"
A Fisher once took his bagpipes to the bank of a river, and played upon them with the hope of making the fish rise; but never a one put his nose out of the water. So he cast his net into the river and soon drew it forth filled with fish. Then he took his bagpipes again, and, as he played, the fish leapt up in the net. "Ah, you dance now when I play,"said he.
"Yes," said an old Fish: "When you are in a man's power you must do as he bids you."
Ella Shafira on July 23, 2013:
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on June 20, 2013:
Hi Torbjörn, I'm not 100% sure what this article says as it's a little bit older, and I'm constantly refining my articulations on human intelligence and why it surpasses that of every other non-human without contest. There are many forms of intelligence that can be measured. I'm not so interested in basic, crude intelligence like that problem-solving, ect., but more in the adaptability and flexibility of intelligence.
One major difference I often like to point out that differs humans from other animals is their imperfection. Animals, whatever intelligence they may possess, possess it within the same range of each other. Most of it is what I refer to as 'innate' intelligence, just as speed and agility is inherent with other animals and superior to us. I would be very interested in knowing what a dolphin may consider to be the most relevant mode of consciousness, as it's my solid belief that no dolphin, whale, chimp, ect. are pondering these questions as we are. They have many inherent qualities that we cannot comprehend and may seem impressive--the fact of the matter is that all animals born with a particular DNA sequence will come to these abilities naturally. Hence, they have no need to ponder beyond these elements...and they can't.
Humans represent a milestone in the thinking animal. We have largely abandoned, although while still have a strong foundation in, instinct, with our behavior and motivations. This has led to our unprecedented level of informational exchange and variable cultures.
Torbjörn Berglund on June 19, 2013:
As for the thesis of relativity, it must first of all be stated a reference that can be used so we can make sure that things can be measured in the correct way. A measure stick that is useful for both humans and cetaceans when we are talking about intelligence.
So with respect to Humans we have some sort of narrow and slightly uncertain methods of testing a persons ability to solve problems. In modern psychology the definition of human intelligence tend to be widened to include many aspects . Our own measure stick are not definitely and clearly defined yet. From that point of view it is a complicated thing to really know about the cetaceans and how we should compare . Example: is that Cetaceans may define our interest in certain examples of what intelligence is defined as ludicrous, silly, or waste of time. It may well be that they focus more on what we call emotional intelligence or other aspects of the consciousness. Apart from that I would say that the real interesting evidences for their ability has not been mentioned at all by the previous writer. Which is a classical example of projection on the worst habits some groups or phenomenas possess and not a fair criticism .
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on April 12, 2013:
Thanks for reading and commenting christianbenoit. In my opinion you are highlighting the innate characteristics of dolphins. Humans go thought massive changes through increments of time because of our ability to shape our culture, pursuits, and our complex representational language which leads us beyond basic 'animal sense'. I don't think dolphins are much different from elephants, intelligence-wise. They have innate social instincts, as humans do, but human behavior is undefinable. I don't believe that dolphins control the oceans, they have their niche as do other ocean-dwelling species. They cannot go to the deepest parts of the oceans, and many are restricted to certain parts of the world, for instinctual reasons. Dolphins have been engaging in their behavioral routines for millions of years, longer than human 'behavior modernity' which would separate us from the more common animal behavior of our extinct hominid relatives.
Christian Beniot on April 12, 2013:
Very interesting article. You made a lot of great points. Remember, 70% of the earth's surface is covered by water. And unlike land, which is for the most part a 2 dimensional plane, water allows for movement through the 3rd dimension, depth. So, one could make the case that dolphins are a more dominant species overall since they can cover more total area.
Though I do agree with you that humans are still more intelligent overall, dolphins could still have many qualities that humans don't possess, and/or wouldn't even begin to think about possessing. Humans are by far the most intelligent land organism, I would say that dolphins are far smarter in their own world. They know exactly how to "work the system" like we do, but in a completely different way. By that I mean while humans create tools and technology, dolphins had no means of creating such things, they just had to play the hand that they were dealt.
So it's hard to make a comparison between the two. Humans dominate all land species, and dolphins control the oceans. I don't know that we could ever truly know a definite answer.
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on April 06, 2013:
Peter Dickinson from South East Asia on April 06, 2013:
Great article. Thank you.