The blowhole truth

For years, we’ve believed that dolphins were just about as smart as we are. (Smarter, if you follow Douglas Adams.) Persuaded as I am that humans are not so damn smart — an hour of C-Span will demonstrate that to the 99-percent confidence level — I suppose it’s gratifying in a perverse way to find out that maybe dolphins aren’t so damn smart either:

For more than 50 years, the dolphin has been viewed as an especially intelligent creature, grouped together with human beings and great apes. But now a dispute on the subject has erupted among scientists, and the smart aleck of the seas may end up being just an average mammal. “We put them on a pedestal for no reason and projected a lot of our desires and wishes on them,” says neuroethologist Paul Manger of the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa. According to the professor, the claims that dolphins have a particularly complex brain, use a sophisticated language, are self-aware and can use tools are nonsense.

In some cases, says Manger, dolphins — which are small whales — are even outdone by goldfish. When goldfish are placed in a bowl, he explains, they at least try to escape by boldly jumping out, whereas dolphins that have been captured in nets won’t even think of jumping to freedom. “The idea of the exceptionally intelligent dolphin is a myth,” Manger concludes.

There is, of course, opposition to this notion:

[I]s the dolphin actually the dummy of the seas? Most dolphin researchers are offended by such remarks. “To put it bluntly, most of that is bullshit,” says Karsten Brensing, a marine biologist with the organization Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC). Manger and [biologist Justin] Gregg are losing sight of the “total package” when they compare the marine mammals’ individual abilities with those of mealworms or bees, he says. “You can use similar arguments to prove that people aren’t intelligent.”

Or, as I mentioned earlier, C-Span.

(Via neo-neocon.)


  1. Dr. Weevil »

    1 October 2013 · 9:33 pm

    So “boldly jumping out” of your comfortable fishbowl into a place where you will inevitably die unless some human is around to put you right back where you started is now the smarter option?

  2. CGHill »

    1 October 2013 · 9:54 pm

    I don’t know if it’s truly smarter, but it earns points for lack of submissiveness.

  3. McGehee »

    2 October 2013 · 7:46 am

    A dolphin caught in a net wants to be captured. The ones that don’t, stay clear of such things. </sarcasm font>

    Seriously though, I think we need some extraterrestrial intelligence to come here and net up the humans that want to be kept as pets/livestock/circus animals, so they (and the ETs) can leave the rest of us the hell alone.

  4. fillyjonk »

    2 October 2013 · 9:13 am

    Maybe dolphins really are smart, but are just lazy?

  5. jsallison »

    2 October 2013 · 11:46 pm

    They’re smart, they just haven’t figured out how to use a shotgun, yet.

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