Dolphins are not smart at all

At one point I was going to call this blog Flipper’s Last Theorem (hat-tip to Brent for suggesting the name). It turns out I made the right choice to go with Kian‘s idea of Abstract Nonsense, since a new study has just shown that contrary to previous belief, dolphins are very far from the second most intelligent species on the planet:

Dolphins and whales are dumber than goldfish and don’t have the know-how to match a rat, new research from South Africa shows.

For years, humans have assumed the large brains of dolphins meant the mammals were highly intelligent.

Paul Manger from Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand, however, says it is not intelligence that created the dolphin super-brain — it’s the cold.

To survive underwater, these warm-blooded animals developed brains that have a lot of insulating material — called glia — but not too many neurons, the gray stuff that counts for reasoned thinking.

Douglas Adams is flipping in his grave.

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6 Responses to Dolphins are not smart at all

  1. Greg says:

    I knew it – why else would a creature swim in harms way to save man.

  2. “For years, humans have assumed the large brains of dolphins meant the mammals were highly intelligent.” This isn’t correct. Dolphins have been assumed to be intelligent for millenia; large brains had little to do with it. They’re famous for curiousity — which is not a trait found in goldfish. They also do things for no obvious reason besides ‘fun’: this seems rather human. Like whales they communicate with complex signals. Dolphins are mentioned in Homer. Wikiepedia: “They are also famous for their willingness to occasionally approach humans and playfully interact with them in the water. In return, some cultures such as the Ancient Greeks treated them with welcome; a ship spotting dolphins riding in their wake was considered a good omen for a smooth voyage.” Also they use tools.
    Because we thought they were smart, we looked at their brains. Not the other way round.

  3. Alon Levy says:

    The comment thread on Majikthise cites the same study as explaining that actually the communication signals are fairly simple.

    Many animals used to playfully interact with humans; however, humans hunted them down to extinction. These animals simply hadn’t evolved fear of humans because they lived in continents far away from Africa, such as America and Australia. Dolphins never needed that fear because it was nigh impossible for humans to hunt them down.

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