Posted by: learnaboutdolphins | October 22, 2011

Dolphins Are Smarter Than We Think

In case you did not already know, dolphins are extremely intelligent. Some researchers believe that they are the second smartest animals, with humans being the number one. A new study has proved that dolphins do not just “whistle” to each other, but in fact they are talking.

In an article on by Jennifer Viegas, states that new MRI analysis shows that dolphins are smarter than scientists had ever realized, as well as being self aware.

 New MRI scans show that dolphin brains are four to five times larger for their body sized when compared to another animal of similar size, according to Lori Marino, a senior lecturer in neuroscience and behavioral biology at Emory University, and one of the world’s leading dolphin experts. Humans also possess an impressive brain-to-body ratio.

Marino presented her findings this past February at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting.

Marino has also conducted studies, along with other dolphin experts, that demonstrate that dolphins have certain“human-like” skills. These skills include:

  • mirror self-recognition
  • cultural learning
  • comprehension of symbol-based communication systems
  • an understanding of abstract concepts

Dr. Lori Marino also believes that “dolphin-assisted therapy,” [which is children and adults working with dolphins to “build a methodology, a theoretical base, and practical application for the programs designed for children suffering from a range of diseases, including autism and A.D.D,”] and other forms of captivity “are potentially harmful to dolphins and present a misinformed picture of their natural intellectual capacities.”

Child Participating in "Dolphin-Assisted Therapy"

Although we may get pleasure from playing with these creatures, the feeling is not always reciprocated. Dr. Lori Marino goes on to state:

That during dolphin drives, when the animals are herded together by boats, some dolphins become so panicked that they die of heart attacks. Others die from exhaustion attempting to flee, while still others become entangled in nets and are killed or injured. The dolphins that do survive are hoisted from the water, often by their tail flukes, and transported to the human-run parks and other facilities.

She continues to state that scientific evidence that has been done on dolphin sensitivities go on to reveal that they are very capable to experience and are extremely vulnerable to trauma and suffering, especially when they are confined to life in a marine park.

The director of The Kerulos Center, which provides sanctuary and support for animals that have suffered due to human-caused trauma, Gary Bradshaw agrees with all the research that Dr. Lori Marino has discussed. He stated that, “what Dr. Marino states is congruent with theory and data.”

Not only do dolphins have emotions, feel suffering, and are scientifically proven to be the second smartest creatures on earth, new research has also proven that dolphins actually have conversations with each other.

Two Dolphins Talking to Each Other

In an article found on, Jennifer Viegas interviews scientists and researchers who have recently found out that dolphins do not whistle to each other, but they are in fact communicating to one another.

Peter Madsen, a researcher in the Department of Biological Sciences at Aarhus University, and his team have been studying how dolphins communicate with each other by digitalizing and reanalyzing the recording made by a 12-year-old male bottlenose dolphin in 1977.

While many dolphin calls sound like whistles, the study found the sounds are produced by tissue vibrations analogues to the operation of vocal folds by humans and many other land-based animals. Communicating similar to the way that humans do.

Peter Madsen, a researcher in the Department of Biological Sciences at Aarhus University, and his team have been studying how dolphins communicate with each other by digitalizing and reanalyzing the recording made by a 12-year-old male bottlenose dolphin in 1977.

Dolphins breath in a “heliox” which is a mixture made up of 80 percent helium and 20 percent oxygen, this is what causes humans to sound like “Donald Duck.” This mixture has a “sound speed” that is 1.74 times higher than normal air. For example if a person whistles after sucking helium out of a balloon, the pitch of the whistle will be 1.74 times higher than if they were to whistle just breathing like normal.

Peter Madsen goes on to state that:

We found that the dolphin does not change pitch when it is producing sound in heliox, which means that its pitch in not defined by the size of its nasal air cavities, and hence that it is not whistling. Rather, it makes the sound by making connective tissue in the nose vibrate at the frequency it wishes to produce by adjusting the muscular tension and air flow over the tissue. That is the same way that we humans make sound with our vocal cords to speak.

Acoustics engineer John Stuart Reid and Jack Kassewitz of the Speak Dolphin organization have created the CymaScope, an instrument that reveals detailed structures within sounds and allowing their structure to be studied pictorially. The researchers may be able to decipher the dolphin calls, as well as the whistle-like sounds and clicks, all of this suggests that there language is much more complex than researchers originally imagined.

Jack Kassewitz of the Speak Dolphin organization has stated:

There is strong evidence that dolphins are able to ‘see‘ with sound, much like humans use ultrasound to see an unborn child in the mother’s womb. The CymaScope provides our first glimpse into what the dolphins might be ‘seeing‘ with their sounds.

I personally think that it would be extremely cool to have a conversation with a dolphin. Also, I think that if in the future if humans can decipher the dolphin language we will stop catching and putting dolphins in captivity because we will be able to understand what they are saying. We will think of dolphins more as equals, rather than animals that we limit by keeping them in small concrete cages.

For those of you that do not know what dolphin “talk” sounds like, I am going to end this blog with a video used by acoustics engineer John Stuart Reid and his research team to try and understand what dolphins are actually “talking” about. Here is a video posted by National Geographic:



  1. This post is very informative because you write about the similarities dolphins have with humans. Also how and why they are intelligent animals. What makes this article more interesting and helps your audience observe that dolphins are very intelligent is the video provided at the end.

  2. I actually didn’t know that Dolphins are that intelligent. It’s great to know that they could be compared to human’s way of communicating. And yes I also think that if we could communicate with them, we would have more sympathy for the dolphins.

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