Last month, several articles popped up calling dolphins “thugs” and “more stupid than goldfish.” Some even compared dolphins to mealworms. These articles were inspired by two recent publications: a study by Paul Manger of the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa and a book by Justin Gregg, PhD, a psychologist and Research Associate with the Dolphin Communication Project.
But do these new claims really negate years of research proving that dolphins are perhaps the smartest non-human animals?
That’s exactly what Gregg’s book, Are Dolphins Really Smart?, tries to explain. According to the author Q&A, his book “provides a scholarly overview of the past five decades’ worth of scientific research into dolphin cognition and behavior,” and isn’t trying to convince people that dolphins aren’t smart. He says “I don’t think anyone who reads the book will be left thinking that dolphins are dumb.”
So how did so many articles get so negative, so quickly? Well that has a lot to do with a paper written by neuroethologist Paul Manger who states that behavioral studies involving dolphins are flawed and therefore inaccurate. “The idea of the exceptionally intelligent dolphin is a myth,” he says.
One article about dolphin ‘thugs’ states that dolphins occasionally engage in “wanton acts of violence.” (They sometimes isolate and kill smaller harbour porpoises with no intention of eating their carcasses.) But do acts of violence somehow make them less intelligence? Many dolphin experts say no because plenty of other animals (including humans) engage in acts of violence.
A later article that references Manger’s study states that dolphins “may be more stupid than goldfish, chickens and even mealworms.” (The claim is that dolphins are dumber than goldfish because when goldfish are put in a bowl, they try to jump to freedom but dolphins don’t always do the same when trapped in a net. My question is: if goldfish really are smart, why would they try to jump out of the water to certain death on the water-less countertop?)
In the post she writes that the ‘dolphins are dumb’ articles “make false claims and disseminate misleading information that is at odds with current scientific understandings of dolphin and animal cognition.”
There have been plenty of examples highlighting dolphin intelligence, including a study revealing that dolphins name themselves. Not only do dolphins have specific names for themselves, but the other dolphins will call them by those names. And, if that wasn’t impressive enough, they can remember those names for more than 20 years.
“It is becoming increasingly accepted that, as we learn more about animal cognition in general, previously held notions of human intellectual superiority are inaccurate,” writes Bridgeman.
To learn more, check out some of these links*:
- Op-Ed: Don’t Believe the Lies You Hear About Dolphin Intelligence
- Dolphins’ Long-Term Memory Rivals Humans’
- Flipper is a thug! Scientists reveal that dolphins are NOT as clever as other animals and are more likely to fight with one another
- Not so clever now, Flipper! Experts say dolphins’ whistling isn’t really language, and they may be no smarter than chickens or even WORMS
- Flipper Fail: Dolphins May be Dumber Than We Think
- Are Dolphins Really Smart?
- Justin Gregg’s Author Q&A
- Dolphins: Second-Smartest Animals?
- Dolphins are almost as clever as humans – so treat them like people, say scientists
- Is a Dolphin a Person?
*I know that’s a lot of references so if you don’t have all day, take a look at the links in bold.
Copyright © 2013 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.