This post is based on a staff argument at Arjuna – one of our Arjunites casually claimed that dolphins were more intelligent than humans, leading to widescale ridicule and jokes about dolphins doing intelligence tests and whether they could hold the pencil to fill in the form (if two fish start swimming off the coast of Bermuda at 9 am, one at twenty miles an hour and one at ten, at what time do they…)

Of course, we then had to Google the intelligence of dolphins – and what we learnt was surprising.

You might not know this (we didn’t) but dolphins are currently ranked as the 2nd most intelligent species in the world, higher than chimps!

The basic conclusion was that as humans, we have great intellectual advantages over other species. But is it possible that some of the credit is simply because we have the ability to use tools and we don’t have to live underwater?

Research has been carried out by the scanning dolphins and whales and it turns out they have bigger brains than us, proportionally, not just because they are a larger animal. Our brains have 3 lobes, whereas a dolphin’s brain has 4; this means they’re able to make faster decisions than humans which comes in handy when escaping predators.

Research also suggests that dolphin brains are complex and they process memories and emotions along with thoughts, just like us.

Another fascinating fact to consider is that dolphins understand the world using sound rather than sight.

There is research carried out by Michigan State University which suggests that dolphins may have the upper hand in intelligence because of this – when we hear ‘cat’ we then have to visualise a cat to understand.

But dolphins understand the world through shapes and how sound moves around them.

The way in which dolphins think and communicate means they process auditory images using sonar. They sort of ‘see’ sound.

I’ve been researching (see links at the bottom if you’re interested) and I’ll try and explain this as best I can. Essentially, humans communicate best through speech but our best form of sense is sight. This means our communication and sense of surroundings operate in two different ways. Dolphins communicate through sound which is also how they process the world.

Did you know?

Dolphins are capable of recognising themselves in mirrors and are able to identify parts of their body that identify with ours – for instance when a trainer waves their arm, a dolphin may wave their fin back

Just like us, they have sex for pleasure (!)

They create name tags for each other through sound, and can identify objects using sound (echolocation)

They play games, and while we can’t understand their language, they have no problems learning and understanding our commands

Dolphin language is universal in every ocean, meaning they don’t have language barriers

Another very interesting point is that a dolphin’s ability to perceive and plan has been developed without the interference of humans – unlike domestic animals like dogs. They’re smart without training!

Maybe it’s impossible to truly compare the intelligence of humans and dolphins. But maybe our colleague is right and dolphins shouldn’t be underestimated! Certainly it makes you think about what we’re doing to the ocean in a different light…

We’d love to hear your opinions! Leave a comment below…