Breaking The Surface: Are Dolphins Intelligent?

are dolphins intelligent

Dolphins are marine mammals that can be found in all oceans around the world, often living in groups or pods that can be hundreds of individuals strong.

There are 42 different species of dolphin, with 38 of those living in the ocean and the remaining 4 belonging to rivers.

These remarkable animals are notorious for their playful and curious nature as well as their complex social structures and problem-solving abilities.

In this post, we’re going to take a closer look at the cognitive abilities of dolphins and answer a common question that often comes up when discussing these animals. Are dolphins intelligent?

If this question has ever crossed your mind, stick around as you’re in the right place!

Are Dolphins Intelligent?

Yes, dolphins are VERY intelligent and are arguably some of the most intelligent animals in the world.

Besides humans, many scientists and researchers believe that dolphins are the smartest animals on earth as they display complex behaviors that other animals don’t.

Whilst intelligence is difficult to measure in animals as there’s no IQ test or way of doing so accurately, it’s clear after observing dolphins that there is much more to their intelligence than given credit for.

are dolphins intelligent
Photo by Flavio Gasperini

These aquatic acrobats have highly developed large brains that have developed over thousands of generations and allowed them to thrive in their ocean habitats.

To this day, dolphins are used for entertainment purposes as they are able to learn tricks that dazzle large audiences in shows at SeaWorld.

Whilst holding dolphins in captivity is a topic for another post, millions of guests every year attend these events to witness the fascinating displays that dolphins are a big part of.

How Intelligent Are Dolphins?

As mentioned earlier, it’s difficult to measure intelligence in animals, but dolphins are widely thought to be second only to humans when it comes to intelligence.

They have large brains in comparison to their body size and have a highly developed cerebral cortex which is associated with complex cognitive abilities.

Dolphins display a range of complex behaviors that show their intelligence, such as problem-solving, quick learning, self-awareness, as well as emotions such as grief, joy, and happiness.

When hunting in the wild, dolphins have learned how to use tools, such as using a sea sponge to protect their snout whilst they search the sea floor.

They are also able to recognize themselves in a mirror, which shows that they are self-aware.

Dolphins have highly sophisticated communication skills that allow them to effectively communicate with other members of their pod.

They use clicks, whistles, and body language to convey information to one another and coordinate group activities and hunts.

Dolphins have also been observed exhibiting compassion and empathy toward other dolphins and even humans.

They’ve been known to help their sick and injured, with some species such as Orcas even carrying their dead young with them for weeks at a time during the grieving process.

Some dolphins have been known to protect humans from sharks, whether this was coincidental or an act of kindness is yet to be known, but nevertheless it’s fascinating behavior.

Are Dolphins More Intelligent Than Humans?

No, dolphins are not more intelligent than humans. The cognitive abilities of dolphins are certainly impressive, but it does not compare to that of a human.

Whilst dolphins are able to problem solve, communicate, and are emotionally intelligent, they lack some of the higher-order cognitive abilities that are unique to humans.

We’re able to learn and create languages, plan for the future, take part in abstract reasoning, as well as think and act accordingly.

Humans are capable of creating art, communities, and developing cultures, something that animals don’t have the ability for.

are dolphins intelligent
Photo by Ranae Smith

It’s also important to note that intelligence is a multi-dimensional concept that can not be reduced to a single unit of measure.

Dolphin intelligence and human intelligence are COMPLETELY different, so comparing the two is completely immeasurable.

Ultimately, whilst it’s clear that dolphins are very impressive when it comes to intelligence, humans take the cake on this one and likely always will.

Are Dolphins More Intelligent Than Dogs?

Yes, it’s widely agreed upon by scientists and researchers that dolphins are more intelligent than our beloved dogs.

Dolphins appear to be better problem solvers and able to understand human language better than dogs do.

Dogs also couldn’t pass the mirror test, which is something that dolphins have mastered and suggests they are self-aware.

However, dogs have been used by our militaries, trained to incredibly high standards, and can understand the human language very well.

Both dogs and dolphins are highly intelligent in their own respective right, and comparing the two is difficult as they live very different lives.

But the large brains of dolphins allow them to exhibit behaviors that dogs are simply unable to, and whilst there’s no denying that dogs are smart, dolphins are smarter.

Why Are Dolphins So Intelligent?

Dolphins are highly intelligent animals for a number of reasons that include environmental factors, genetics, and social factors.

They’ve evolved to have enormous brains in comparison to their body size, with brains that are about 1.5 to 2 times larger than other similarly sized mammals.

This powerhouse of a brain suggests that they’ve evolved sophisticated cognitive abilities which allow them to thrive in their ocean habitat.

are dolphins intelligent
Photo by Xad Eugenia Sánchez Ruíz

Another reason dolphins are so intelligent is due to their complex social structures. They’ve had to develop a number of effective communication methods to be able to coordinate with one another.

This includes activities such as hunting, playing, and escaping from threats, and this social structure is thought to have been the driving force behind why they’ve developed complex cognitive abilities.

Dolphins are top predators in the ocean, which requires advanced problem-solving skills, reasoning abilities, and the ability to navigate murky waters.

Their highly intelligent brains have allowed them to do this, which is a big reason why they are such successful hunters.

Wrapping Up

To wrap up, YES, dolphins are HIGHLY intelligent animals, widely considered to be the smartest animals on earth.

They’ve evolved over millions of years to have a brain that is capable of highly complex abilities, allowing them to thrive in their ocean habitat.

Whilst they are not as smart as humans, they are certainly smarter than man’s best friend.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about how smart dolphins really are, and perhaps you’ve even learned something new today about their abilities.