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How intelligent are dolphins?

Although it is hard for scientists to agree on how best to measure intelligence and it is difficult to compare intelligence from one species to another, broadly speaking, intelligence can be defined as the ability to learn and apply knowledge; to understand new or challenging situations and the ability to think abstractly. Dolphins clearly demonstrate the ability to do all of these things and most scientists agree that dolphins are very intelligent creatures.

Dolphins have a large brain. Large brain animals like humans, chimpanzees, and dolphins have a number of things in common. They generally live long lives. They form stable communities. They demonstrate complex emotions such as happiness, sadness and grief. They can assess situations and problem solve. And their offspring are totally dependent on their parents during childhood.

Dolphins brains are large and complex. They are fast learners, have advanced communication systems and develop complex social networks. They make plans together and cooperate with one another to hunt, protect themselves and bring up their young. Dolphins have senses of empathy, altruism and attachment. They are creative and playful creatures, and seem to enjoy playing and seek the companionship of others. They will work together to take care of injured or sick pod mates.

Dolphins are one of only a few species that pass the ‘mirror test’. They recognise their own reflection in a mirror; they inspect themselves and look at parts of their bodies in the mirror that they can’t usually see, they also make movements and examine themselves for this movement. These behaviours indicate self-awareness of a highly intelligent species.

Amazing facts about whales and dolphins

Dive deeper into the world of whales and dolphins and learn more about their lives.

A humpback whale pokes its head partway out of the water, a behavior called spyhopping
two dolphins diving down out of the water
Northern Resident orca, Fife, swimming at the surface
Breaching North Atlantic right whale

Facts about whales

Amazing facts about whales, the largest mammals to live on Earth.

Facts about dolphins

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Record breakers

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Brain power

Just how intelligent are whales and dolphins?

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Humpback whale poking its head out of the water, a behavior called spyhopping

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Bottlenose dolphin calf breaching with its whole body out of the water

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Breaching North Atlantic right whale

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