When it comes to ranking the smartest species on the planet humans conceitedly award themselves with first place. But is this a realistic assumption?
Dolphins, who we have been relegated to second place, have exhibited astonishing intelligence, a capacity to solve problems, and an evolutionary development that may likely exceed our own. Sure we don’t see any monumental feats of dolphin engineering, but the philosophical, social, and existential world of the dolphin exceeds the limitations of our own societies in just about every way.
Furthermore, there is so much about the dolphins that simply escapes our grasp because unfortunately, humans can only think like humans. Therefore, we lack the necessary perspective to make an effective comparison between these two very distinct species.
Nevertheless, there are some clues that have led the experts to believe humans might be trailing behind the dolphin who has a 20-million-year head start in the evolutionary race.1 Here are some points that suggest dolphins might be every bit as smart as humans.
Superior Language System
We, humans, pride ourselves in our capacity to articulate, but our languages don’t hold a candle to the dolphins’ intricate language system. Rather than a spoken language, dolphins rely on a combination of gestures, clicks, whistles, behaviors and physical contact that they use to express themselves and make sense of each other. They even have names and can remember these signature whistles years after introductions.2
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While this language system doesn’t make dolphins necessarily “smarter”, it is universal and eliminates the “language barrier” that humans experience. It is also humbling to think that the dolphin may be our best interpreter when making contact with aliens.
Taking time from the demands nature places on all life to invest in simple fun and games is considered an indicator of superior intelligence. Dolphins are fun-loving social creatures and aren’t shy about engaging with whales, humans, dogs, and cats in any game that comes to mind. The intelligence here is reflected in the capacity of a dolphin to observe their friends and produce a game that connects minds across species divisions. But humans are pretty good at this too.
Highly Complex Brain
Like the human brain, the dolphin brain has a right and left hemisphere, but the dolphin has 4 lobes where humans have only three. Within this fourth lobe are all the sensory processing the dolphins rely on to navigate their watery world.
Evidence suggests this fourth lobe may allow dolphins increased decision making speed and clarity to see around complexities and obstacles. More notably, this increased cognition surpasses the capacity of humans.3
When humans and dolphins set out to communicate, it is invariably the dolphin who has an easier time picking up what the humans are expressing, than the other way around. Dolphins have learned the complexities of human language and can even understand different meanings by different grammatical patterns. Sadly, humans still understand very little about the way dolphins communicate.
Dolphins exist in a complex society founded on the highest pinnacle of philosophy: compassion. Dolphins will place themselves in great danger to protect an injured friend and have even been known to rescue humans lost at sea and whales who have been beached.
Final Notes on Human and Dolphin Intelligence
Comparing the intelligence of a human to dolphins is hardly a fair contest. Humans have faced greater hardships and faced enemies on all sides, even among their own species. Dolphins seem to have solved their differences long ago and have pretty much been swimming around and having a good time for the past 20 million years. So, who can say where the human race will be when we are that old on this planet?
Photo credits: timsimages.uk/shutterstock.com, ValeriiaES/shutterstock.com, AndreaIzzotti/shutterstock.com, WillyamBradberry/shutterstock.com