Who would not be enchanted with dolphins? With their deep, friendly eyes and smiling snouts, dolphins had captivated millions of people around the world. This captivation does not account only from their friendly nature. Humans and dolphins have a lot of things in common. Like humans, dolphins are mammals. They are warm-blooded and breathe air. Every few minutes, dolphins rise up to the surface to breathe air through their blowholes. Dolphins often behave like people. How they care for their young and how they survive in the wild share similarities with how a human would actually behave.
Aside from being fast and agile swimmers, dolphins are regarded as highly sociable animals. They usually swim in “cooperative” groups. A cooperative group helps each other to locate and round up fishes. They also use their number to defend themselves and attack against predators. This cooperation is also observed when a calf is born or when another dolphin gets sick. When a mother dolphin is about to give birth, a second dolphin, coined as “auntie”, comes to aid. The mother or the “auntie” pushes the young calf to the surface for its first breath of air.
The “auntie” also helps in feeding and nursing the young calf. Calves are very close to their mothers just like human infants for the first two years. Even after weaning, some still stay and help in catching fishes with their mothers until about 8 years old or more. Sick dolphins are also aided by a nurse or a second dolphin. When dolphins get sick, they tend to sleep. However, they cannot sleep underwater for more that six or seven minutes so the nurse has to push the sick dolphin up to the surface to breathe air or it will drown. Dolphins enjoy each other’s company.
They are very playful animals and they usually play together in groups. Physical contact is important among dolphins. They are frequently seen stroking each other using their flippers. They jump high out of the water and do acrobatic stunts. Some researchers had also observed them “chatting” or chasing each other underwater. They even blow air rings together. The dolphins’ social nature made them develop their own means of communication. They communicate with each other by making a variety of sounds such as clicks and whistles. They are, in fact, very vocal animals.
They make sounds when they are angry, hungry or in the presence of danger. Scientists have discovered that dolphins have “signature whistles. ” They use these when communicating with other dolphins especially those who are related to them or within the same cooperative group. Biologist Rachel Smolker and her colleague John Pepper had found out that young male dolphins in search of mates form alliances by exchanging sounds. At first, each male would have his own unique pattern of sounds. But over time, they would share a single sound pattern determinant of an understanding (Public Broadcasting Service, 2007).
Humans thought that with the variety of sounds dolphins make, they actually have their own language. But through the years, this theory has not been proven nor was there an interpretation developed to make them understandable to humans. If dolphins do have their own distinct language, their intelligence could be highly advanced and may be equal or even exceed to that of humans. The intellectual capabilities of a dolphin had not been scientifically established yet but there had been a lot of stories about their cleverness and their talents.
At the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Mississippi, dolphins were taught to hold on to any litter that falls on their pools. When a trainer passes by, they would receive a fish in exchange for the litter. Kelly was one of dolphins at the Institute. Extraordinarily, she learned to keep pieces of littered paper at the bottom of the pool. Every time a trainer passes by, she tears off a small piece of the paper and trades it with fish (Nova Spivack, 2006). Coming from a marine animal, this is a cunning behavior.
Kelly was able to realize that even from a small piece of litter, she would still be rewarded accordingly with a fish. By not giving the entire piece of litter and tearing it to small pieces, she was able to get a number of extra fishes to eat. Researchers say that a dolphin’s intelligence is boosted by its large brain. A dolphin’s brain is almost the same size as humans. It is, however, inaccurate to conclude at this point that the level of intelligence of dolphins is at par with that of humans.
Elephant brains are four times larger yet they are not four times more intelligent than humans. The amount of folding in the cerebral cortex, the portion of the brain connected to thinking and reasoning, is a more accurate characteristic to examine. Some dolphins have more deeply-folded brains than humans. This suggests that dolphin intelligence is comparable to humans. Dolphins are quick learners. In contrast to the human brain which has two hemispheres, a dolphin brain has a separate section where all the senses and motor activities are located.
Having this separate lobe in the brain enables dolphins to make immediate and complex perceptions. Dr. John C. Lilly who had provided extensive research on dolphins proved this exceptional ability. He was setting up a switch wherein by pushing a lever, the dolphin would be able to reward himself. He noticed the dolphin closely watching him while the experiment was being assembled. In the middle of the assembling, the dolphin started pushing on the rod. By the time the setup was finished, the dolphin already knew how to work the lever and receive his reward.
In an article from the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS), Mark Simmonds, International Director of Science for WDCS, stated that it is not from the brain size or physical anatomy that we determine the mental capacity of animals but rather on their behavior. For anyone who has interacted with dolphins, he would realize that he is interacting with intelligent, emotional and extraordinary animals. Hence at this point, it is only right that the level of relationship with dolphins be moved to a new paradigm wherein they are recognized and treated as unique individuals (WDCS, 2007).