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12 curiosities about the intelligence of dolphins

12 curiosities about the intelligence of dolphins

April 30, 2024

Dolphins are one of the most valued and popular animals worldwide. It is an animal species that has inspired the human being since antiquity, with even romantic overtones and often being a symbol of freedom, peace and joy.

Among its multiple qualities, the intelligence of the dolphins is one of the most valued , along with his sociability and capacity for empathy both with those of his species and with others (including the human being). And is that the dolphin has been identified along with other cetaceans, primates, elephants and some species of birds like the crows as one of the most intelligent species of non-human animals (surpassing many of them in capacity). Throughout this article we will observe different curiosities and information related to their high cognitive capacity.


  • Related article: "The theories of human intelligence"

What does it mean to be intelligent?

Before going to see different facts and curiosities that help us see the great potential and intelligence of the dolphins, we should make a brief review about what we consider intelligence.

While there are multiple theories and models in this regard, we can briefly define intelligence as the ability or set of intellectual abilities that allow a living being to adapt successfully to the environment that surrounds him, being able to solve more or less complex problems and use the resources available both in the subject itself and in the environment in the most efficient way possible. This implies the capacity, among other aspects, of organizing mental content, restructuring it and giving it shape and even a certain capacity for abstraction.


While traditionally this capacity has been linked and focused almost exclusively on the human being, the truth is that there are multiple animal species that manifest considerable behavior as intelligent. And among them the dolphin stands out, which presents behaviors and a cerebral structure that make us think of this species as one of the smartest animals . Some even think that, having had opposable hands and thumbs, they could even overcome our abilities.

Curiosities about the intelligence of dolphins

Most people know that dolphins are very intelligent beings, but the truth is that there are many data that are unknown or that can draw attention to this issue. Then we leave you a series of interesting facts about these beings that make us appreciate the high level of intelligence of the dolphins.


1. They have a language

The dolphins enjoy not only a great intelligence, but also capacities that until a few centuries ago were considered the exclusive patrimony of the human being. One of them is the language. Like other cetaceans like whales, it has been observed that dolphins they enjoy a complex communication system based on their characteristic clicks , being able to identify different elements with them and even apparently refer to their emotional state.

2. They have their own name

Linked to the above, different researches have proven that the human being is not the only creature that is identified by his fellows in a symbolic way, with a distinctive name for each one of us. And it's been proven through the registration of their language that the dolphins employ such whistles to address others , possessing whistles that identify other subjects.

3. They use tools

One of the aspects most linked to cognitive ability is the ability to use existing resources in the environment creatively in order to achieve a specific goal. It has been observed that dolphins are capable of this, using, among other elements, marine sponges when searching for food between corals . This requires considerable cognitive skills, including the fact that they may experience harm and the need to use an element to avoid it, as well as finding and using it for practical use.

  • You may be interested: "Is our species more intelligent than the Neanderthals?"

4. They have sex for pleasure

Most of the animals reproduce only in seasons in which the females are fertile. Dolphins, like some primates and humans, are one of the few animals that do not take into account sex only in their fertile phases, but have sexual relations as usual for the sole purpose of obtaining pleasure . In addition to this, they carry out different courtship behaviors that they seem to enjoy.

5. Accompany in the last moments

When a dolphin is in its last moments, it is possible to observe how your group tends to help you with your own bodies to rise to the surface , so that the creature can keep its spiracle (the hole through which they breathe) out of the water in order to breathe more comfortably to relieve their suffering. It is a sample not only of the intelligence of the dolphins, but also of the ability to empathize with these creatures.

6. Military dolphins

The use of animals in the war context has been relatively common throughout history. Generally they were used as transport or as a fundamental element to cause damage (horses, camels, elephants and dogs are good examples of this) or to communicate (as in the case of pigeons).

Although it is not something that is known by most of the population, some cetaceans have also been used in the military. The high intelligence of the dolphins and their ability to emit and perceive ultrasound to detect underwater mines, boats and divers have been used. They can also transport and place mines (fleeing after said placement) and even serve as soldiers to attack divers and boats. Its use was frequent during the cold war and even today some armies continue to employ them.

7. They may commit suicide

Although animal suicide is something very discussed, it has been observed that many dolphins seem to decide to end their life either by stopping breathing (in the dolphin breathing is not unconscious and automatic but requires control on their part), feeding or even repeatedly colliding with rocks or objects. This requires enough cognitive ability to understand what death is and how it can be provoked, a capacity that dolphins seem to have.

8. They have culture

A sample of the intelligence of the dolphins is the ability they present to transmit knowledge to their peers. It has been observed how in some cases of dolphins that have been in captivity how, after being taught some skill or way of doing certain actions, they ended up being replicated by a large part of their group, having been transmitted learned from the original.

It has also been observed that the language or way of communicating may vary between different groups of these animals , being able to observe the existence of learned "dialects". Likewise, social play, mutual cooperation, caring for other offspring and the transmission of hunting strategies have been seen as indications of culture within these animals.

9. Your brain structure is complex

The intelligence of the dolphins has been an element that has aroused the curiosity of many people, having made different analyzes and research in this regard. At the neuroanatomical level, it has been observed that they present a very complex brain structure, with a very high level of encephalization (coming to propose that in some cases they even have greater intellectual capacity than the human being) and a size that on average exceeds ours. In fact, it is one of the animals that has the largest brain in relation to their body size.

10. They recognize themselves in the mirror

Some experiments, already classic, made with different animals such as dolphins show that they have the ability to recognize themselves in the mirror. This implies the notion of a different I to the rest, the recognition of their own characteristics and actions and the fact that a reflection is not a different creature that is imitating us but the product of a refraction. We are looking at another sample of the dolphins' intelligence.

11. Empathize with other species

Possibly we will have seen in a movie how a dolphin saves a swimmer or a castaway from the attack of a shark or drowned. Although it may seem an exaggeration or even a display of romanticism, the truth is that it is something that happens in reality.

And is that the dolphins they have the ability to empathize not only with beings of the same species but also with those of others. There are multiple cases in which these animals (and we are talking about animals in freedom, not trained for it) have saved the lives of many people by acting as bait or by surrounding a group of dolphins with a human being in order to protect them. This protection behavior has also been observed directed to other species, as in some cases of whales attacked by sharks. They are able to understand that another creature is suffering or, in our case, that it is drowning, something that requires a high intellectual capacity.

12. Non-human persons

Due to the very high level of intelligence of the dolphins and their multiple cognitive abilities, different movements and proposals have appeared for the dolphins to receive the consideration of "non-human persons", making them possessing the same rights. This has happened in India, where the Central Zoo Authority has banned shows with these animals, as well as in Costa Rica, Hungary and Chile. Also different zoos in Spain, such as Barcelona, ​​have banned such shows.

In addition, some organizations have requested the approval of the declaration of rights of cetaceans, based on the high sensitivity and intelligence of these beings.

Bibliographic references

  • King, S.L.& Janik, V.M. (2013). Bottlenose dolphins can use learned vocal labels to address each other. PNAS.

Top 10 Most Intelligent Animals (April 2024).


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