A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

Dolphins or Humans: Who’s Smarter?

Dolphins and Us

Part One: The Smartest of Us All?

“So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish!”
The famous message they left us in the sci-fi movie.

Amazing Abilities of Dolphins
What one scientist learned about them. It’s amazing.

Dolphins or Humans: Who’s Smarter?
Here are some of the facts. You decide.

Dolphin Society and Culture
How they live, learn, play and use their amazing echolocation.

They’re Super-Brainy, Too
Neuroscientist shows us a dolphin brain.

More Fascinating Stuff

The Great Researcher
Prof. Lou Herman taught us most of what we know. (Check out the videos.)

A Society that Works
Dolphin society is more successful than ours.

Are Dolphins “Persons”
Author Tom White explains what a “person” is.

Life and Culture
Their lives, games and gatherings.

How Smart is a Dolphin?
The processing power of their brains is huge.

Experimenting on Dolphins
Should we still be doing it? “Please don’t ask me,” says scientist who does it.

My Visit to the Dolphins
“A beautiful creature with liquid eyes was gazing up at me as we motored along.”

Other Links & Videos

Mirror Self-Recognition Test
How we know that dolphins are self-aware.

David Attenborough on Surfing

Spinner Dolphins with Humans

A Dolphin “Stampede”

And Another One!

And Riding the Bow Wave

Playing with Bubble Rings

Dancing in Tahiti

The Herman Investigation
The results that ended his research.

The Minds of Whales
A scientific paper about the brains of cetaceans.

Next: Part 2: The Business of Dolphins

There’s good reason to think that dolphins are smarter than we are. After all, they’ve had a long time to figure out how to live well and prosper. Much longer than us. The modern bottlenose dolphin has been around for about 15 million years. Modern humans have barely been around for 100,000 years, and human civilization is not much more than 5,000 years old. In those terms, we’re an infant species — barely even adolescent. We’re like little kids with big grown-up toys that we don’t know how to use for our own good. So while our technical abilities have evolved very rapidly, our ability to live well and prosper lags way behind.

Real intelligence isn’t measured by one of those pop quizzes where you have to figure out “which of these shapes doesn’t belong” or “what’s the next number in this series.” Real intelligence is measured by how well you can survive and make a better life for your children. In those terms, the jury is out on whether we humans can actually make it into adulthood. Frankly, we’re not that bright. We’re not good at getting on with each other. We settle even simple disputes by killing millions of each other, and we’re destroying the planet that’s our home, with huge consequences to ourselves. That’s really dumb.

Dolphins, by contrast, have created societies that work. Tom White, a business ethics professor who became fascinated with dolphins, has studied the scientific literature, and puts it all into an easy-to-read book, In Defense of Dolphins. (We interview him here.) Tom explains, for example, that to get an idea of how smart dolphins are, you have to consider the kinds of skills they’ve developed to meet the needs of living in the ocean. It’s very different from living on land. Just for starters, everything looks pretty much the same. You can’t build a house. If you’re a mammal, as dolphins are, you have to keep coming up for air (which means you have to figure out when it’s time to surface and take another breath.

So if you’re a dolphin, being good at chemistry or the stock market isn’t the kind of intelligence that’s much use to you. You’ve got much more important things to think about. And you can’t go off and think about them by yourself. It’s difficult to catch food on your own. And if you’re on your own, you’re more likely to become someone else’s dinner. So, life for a dolphin is all about the group, the society, the relationships, and how you can best operate as a team. Social skills are crucial. Killing off your own kind is not a good idea, so you have to figure out how to settle disputes within your group and between groups.

Dolphins aren’t angelic pacifists, as some “new-age” type people like to believe. They have aggressive instincts, just as we do. So they’ve had to figure out how to manage them — in ways that we haven’t remotely done. And that suggests a level of intelligence that, so far, eludes our own species.

Next: Dolphin Society and Culture