From: Andy Soos, ENN
Published February 19, 2010 02:51 PM

Dolphin Intelligence

Are Dolphins intelligent or self aware? It is an intriguing question with deep philosophical implications. Are they people without hands for example. If so, then is it right to exploit them? Emory University neuroscientist Lori Marino will speak on the anatomical basis of dolphin intelligence at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference (AAAS) in San Diego, on Sunday, Feb. 21 at 3:30 p.m.


Dolphins are marine mammals that are closely related to whales and porpoises. There are almost forty species of dolphin in seventeen genera. They are found worldwide, mostly in the shallower seas of the continental shelves.

Dolphins are often regarded as one of Earth's most intelligent animals, though it is hard to say just how intelligent. Comparing species' relative intelligence is complicated by differences in sensory apparatus, response modes, and nature of cognition.

Dolphins are social, living in pods of up to a dozen individuals. In places with a high abundance of food, pods can merge temporarily, forming a superpod; such groupings may exceed 1,000 dolphins. Individuals communicate using a variety of clicks, whistles and other vocalizations. Membership in pods is not rigid; interchange is common.

Dolphins can establish strong social bonds with creatures each other as well as other than dolphins. Dolphins will stay with injured or ill individuals, even helping them to breathe by bringing them to the surface if needed. Many stories have been told about how they have helped human swimmers in distress or peril.

"Many modern dolphin brains are significantly larger than our own and second in mass to the human brain when corrected for body size," Marino says.

A leading expert in the neuroanatomy of dolphins and whales, Marino will appear as part of a panel discussing these findings and their ethical and policy implications.

"Dolphins are sophisticated, self aware, highly intelligent beings with individual personalities, autonomy and an inner life. They are vulnerable to tremendous suffering and psychological trauma," Marino says.

The growing industry of capturing and confining dolphins to perform in marine parks or to swim with tourists at resorts needs to be reconsidered, she says.

"Our current knowledge of dolphin brain complexity and intelligence suggests that these practices are potentially psychologically harmful to dolphins and present a misinformed picture of their natural intellectual capacities," Marino says.

Marino worked on a 2001 study that showed that dolphins can recognize themselves in a mirror which is a finding that indicates self awareness similar to that seen in higher primates and elephants.

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