Link #23: Dolphins Can Recognise Themselves In The Mirror!

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Link #23: Dolphins Can Recognise Themselves In The Mirror!

Common bottlenose dolphin
Bottlenose Dolphin – Tursiops truncatus A dolphin surfs the wake of a research boat on the Banana River – near the Kennedy Space Center. This image has been retouched by Medium69.

Even though our brains may make us believe our heads are hurting when they really aren’t, as explained in our previous post, the human brain is the pinnacle of evolution on the planet. Our ability to be self-aware, our imagination, and our communication skills are things that set our brains apart from others in the animal kingdom.

However special our brains are, they aren’t unique. For instance, did you know that dolphins’ brains are comparable to ours when it comes to complexity and achievements? The best example of this is that dolphins can recognise themselves if shown a mirror.

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Dolphins Recognise Themselves In A Mirror

The fact that Bottlenose Dolphins’ brains can do this is a clear sign that they are self-aware. This isn’t all. Bottlenose Dolphins can do a lot of things that most other animals on Earth cannot. A lot of these things are similar to our own capabilities. For example, some dolphins and whales can communicate with each other.

They do this by a process known as echolocation. Echolocation is a process where these animals send out sounds into their surroundings to figure out their exact location and communicate with each other.

Dolphin head section
Section through the head of a dolphin, with captions at elements which are important for echolocation. Image credit: Martin-rnr cc1.0

An extension of this ability to communicate is to learn and educate. Some dolphins and even whales can actually teach their offspring specific skills and tricks of survival. Moreover, they are constantly learning new tricks and sharing them with others in their species.

How Is It That Dolphins’ Brains Have Evolved In This Way?

Brain of Pacific White-sided dolphin (lagenorhynchus obliquidens), taken at Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium. Body length: ca200cm, body mass:90kg, brain mass 1100g. Image credit: Tranletuhan (talk) cc3.0

In evolution, the relative size of an animal’s brain to the rest of its body is considered to be an indicator of how intelligent they are. This ratio is particularly favourable among dolphins.

When compared to other animals, dolphins’ brains are about five times larger with respect to their body size. To put this in context, our own brains are about seven times larger.

The brain size of dolphins’ ancestors, however, weren’t always as large. In fact, there were two spurts in brain sizes of our marine friends in the past that played a crucial role. The first happened about 39 million years ago.

Then, the body size of dolphins’ ancestors decreased while their brain size increased. The second such spurt came approximately 15 million years ago. This spurt was spurred by the need for dolphins to develop social interaction among themselves.

Other Cool Dolphins That Have Shown Great Intelligence

Dolphins have shown feats of great intelligence which have been observed by humans. There was one dolphin called Kelly who was taught to keep her tank clean. Every time she brought out some litter, she was rewarded with food.

The intelligent dolphin maximised this offer. Every time it would find a piece of paper in its tank, it would tear it into pieces with a stone and bring it out for yummy goodies. As a result, it could turn one piece of paper into multiple meals!

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