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What You Should Know About Dolphin Intelligence

December 26, 2017 / dolphin intelligence

What is intelligence? How do we define intelligence?  Many have attempted to isolate a definition, due to the difficulty isolating a single definition, researchers use the term “cognition” instead when studying particular abilities in problem solving, perception and awareness. This way we can break it down into different cognitive abilities that can make us an intelligent being. 

Communication & Tool Usage

Communication has been identified in a variety of large brained species (e.g., primates, elephants) through vocalizations (alarm calls), body posturing (threat displays), and visual gazes. However, dolphins have the ability to echolocate, which research scientists have discovered plays a role in their communication. In addition to other sound types, dolphins utilize this sense to eavesdrop on other conspecifics, send and receive information, as well as navigate and discern differences between environmental flora and fauna. This is one of the reasons why the public and scientists are so fascinated by dolphins, because they are unique, as well as possess behavioral and cognitive congruencies to humans (e.g., rear young, communicate, problem solving). 

We currently do not know if dolphins possess a "language", and utilizing that terminology is very premature. Know that many publications want to show the congruencies between animals and humans, but for now, we just do not know. We do know that dolphins communicate, but are still investigating if they possess a language (or what we as humans call language).  Often times people ask our animal care professionals "how smart are dolphins" when we should be asking ourselves, “how are dolphins smart”. The same holds true for their communicative abilities, instead of trying to see if they communicate like humans, our focus has shifted to a more baseline approach of how they communicate.

Through observing and documenting animal behavior, we as scientists can potentially uncover what cognitive skills are important to specific species, and then we can compare those abilities across other species. A behavior that has attracted the attention of research scientists is the use of tools. For example, primate and sea otters use objects as hammers to assist in opening nuts or shellfish.  Dolphins have been documented carrying sponges on the ends of their rostrums to while they forage to protect their rostrums as they dig for prey on the rugged seafloor. Foraging is vital to survival, the advancement of the species may rely on the utilization of advanced cognitive skills to efficiently and successfully acquire .

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Dolphins and Humans

Zoological facilities have a unique opportunity to provide educational information to the public. The scope of information provided by animal care professionals, education personnel, and staff scientists extends from basic information about the animals (e.g., natural history, biology, and physiology) to threats and conservation, as well as new research findings (e.g., communication, behavior, cognition, and medical). Skeptics discount the educational content and impact of zoos and aquaria, but their claims are often replete with subjectivity and lack of empirical evidence. 

Learn more dolphin facts HERE!

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