Sorry, Dolphins Are Not Geniuses


Forget what you were taught about their big brains and those clicky noises they make: dolphins may be smart, and they certainly greatly inspired Lisa Frank, but they’re not brilliant-smart.

Science writer Justin Gregg has written about the misconceptions about dolphins for his new book Are Dolphins Really Smart? The Mammal Behind the Myth and summarized some of those findings in the Wall Street Journal. Gregg argues that much of confusion dates back to John Lilly, a neuroscientist who joined Carl Sagan’s the Order of the Dolphin in the mid-20th century with the hopes that understanding how dolphins communicate could help us one day talk to any aliens we might come into contact with. (Side note: you can buy a fake Order of the Dolphin t-shirt here.)

Lilly and scientists since him have believed three major things: that the large size of dolphin brains meant that they were super smart, that they had their own complex language and that their violent nature meant that they were emotionally complex.

But Gregg debunks those claims with recent research. He points out that scientists now know that having a bigger brain doesn’t mean you’re smarter, that there’s been no proof that dolphins have their own language as complex as those that humans use, and that dolphins are not more or less friendly than any other mammal.

However, “After all the evidence is collated and assessed, it will turn out that dolphins (particularly bottlenose dolphins) are in fact much more similar to humans and other primates than one might expect of an aquatic mammal that evolved from a mammalian lineage that split from primates eons ago,” Gregg writes in his book, comfortingly. Good thing popular culture has given us the killer whale to fixate on now – especially since Blackfish just became available on Netflix Instant.

Image via David McNew/Getty

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