Saturday, 9 August 2014


When we say "think" we are talking about cognitive ability. And like just about everything else in the world, we tend to measure cognitive ability in our own terms.

In terms of brain size, dolphin brains are significantly larger than our own. If we relate brain size to body mass then we slip into the lead and dolphins come in second. The question is what do dolphins do with all that neural material?

Neuro scientist, Dr Lori Marino, says that some dolphin brains exhibit features correlated with complex intelligence. They have a large expanse of neo-cortical volume that is more convoluted than our own, extensive insular and cingulated regions, and highly differentiated cellular regions.

Dr. Marino went on to say, "Dolphins are sophisticated, self-aware, highly intelligent beings with individual personalities, autonomy and an inner life. They are vulnerable to tremendous suffering and psychological trauma."

While presenting information at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference (AAAS) in San Diego, she spoke against keeping dolphins in captivity. "Our current knowledge of dolphin brain complexity and intelligence suggests that these practices are potentially psychologically harmful to dolphins and present a misinformed picture of their natural intellectual capacities," Marino says.

Because we are unable to communicate with dolphins, it is difficult to assess their cognitive or thinking ability. Instead scientists use indicators of 'levels' of ability. One indicator is self awareness.

Dr. Marino found that dolphins were able to recognize themselves as distinct from other dolphins in a mirror. This ability is found in higher primates like ourselves and in elephants.

Can dolphins think?

The answer is a definite yes. We don't know what they think about but can guess that their thought processes are complex and relatively sophisticated.

If they think about their social group, hunting, and navigation then they might not spend a lot of time thinking about confinement versus a life in the ocean.

If they have sophisticated thoughts and can compare an aquarium with the ocean then they could be quite miserable in captivity.

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