The Null Device

Dolphins are dumb

Dolphins may be highly spiritually evolved, but it appears that they're not too bright, being even less intelligent than goldfish, or so claims Paul Manger, of the University of the Witwatersrand:
"Dolphins have a superabundance of glia and very few neurons... The dolphin's brain is not made for information processing it is designed to counter the thermal challenges of being a mammal in water," Manger said.
"You put an animal in a box, even a lab rat or gerbil, and the first thing it wants to do is climb out of it. If you don't put a lid on top of the bowl a goldfish it will eventually jump out to enlarge the environment it is living in. But a dolphin will never do that. In the marine parks, the dividers to keep the dolphins apart are only a foot or two above the water between the different pools."
They jump through hoops only because they have been conditioned to do so for a food reward - which may suggest the brain of a single-minded predator rather than a reasoned thinker.
Manger also makes the point that, if dolphins are so smart, why do they get themselves killed in tuna nets?

There are 9 comments on "Dolphins are dumb":

Posted by: blablabla Mon Aug 21 14:32:28 2006

They would never have evolved a reason to escape from boxes in the open ocean.

And the whole thermal regulation thing is BS. Water only goes down to 0C. Look at polar bears, they don't need extra brain cells to keep their brains warm.

I'm not a "dolphin hugger" by any means, but I call bullshit!

Posted by: acb Mon Aug 21 17:16:15 2006

Water conducts heat better than air, which means that preserving body temperature in water could require more effort.

Also, if dolphins do have fewer neurons than other animals with similar-sized brains, that in itself would be significant.

Posted by: realkosh Mon Aug 21 23:13:08 2006

If humans are so smart why do they crash their cars all the time?

Rats, fish etc. try to escape "to enlarge the environment it is living in". He knows that because he asked them I assume. Speaks to animals.

Maybe dolphins are smart enough to hang around where they know they'll be treated well and fed, while rats will escape into the wild to be eaten by cats. Real smart.

Posted by: mk Thu Apr 10 21:49:28 2008

Dolphins are intelligent in ways that don't necessarily spring to mind for us landlubber humans... they're altruistic, peaceful, social, and it's thought that they communicate through language (that we just can't decode). I always think we give other species far too little credit; just because we don't understand them completely does not mean that they aren't intelligent.

Posted by: mk Thu Apr 10 21:53:00 2008

oh I meant to add... obviously dolphins probably have no concept of walls/boxes, but do understand boundaries and perhaps the reason that they don't leap out of the pools in order to try to escape is because they are smart enough to realize how dangerous it would be, to virtually beach themselves in a place completely unknown to them

Posted by: acb Fri Apr 11 07:23:04 2008

It's thought by whom that dolphins have language? Is there any scientific basis to this suggestion, or is it just a matter of faith in the old New Age belief that "dolphins = highly spiritually evolved beings"?

Posted by: mk Fri Apr 11 13:56:32 2008

from what I've read, there are many scientists studying dolphin communication at the present :p google can help you to find more if you are interested

Posted by: acb Fri Apr 11 14:07:17 2008

Communication and language are completely different things. All social animals, by definition, have communication. Language involves having systems of symbols which can refer to things not present at the time of communication and a grammar. Chimpanzees are capable of the former but not the latter.

Posted by: acb Fri Apr 11 14:09:44 2008

The "language" in the article you linked to sounds like a system of signals; there is no claim of an evidence of grammar or of sounds corresponding to symbols (in fact, the statement about it being "context dependent" is a red flag; a dog barking anxiously is context dependent, whereas the sentence "a dog barked" isn't (it makes sense whether there are any dogs barking nearby or not)). As for them having 186 types of whistles, I'm reminded of someone having claimed to have catalogued some 30 vocal sounds made by cats. Do cats have a language as well?