There are also well substantiated reports of whales and dolphins grieving for their dead, even rescuing humans. This “cultural brain hypothesis” says that encephalization—growth in brain capacity or size—is linked to expanding networks of mutually beneficial behavior, such as hunting in groups and the development of different dialects within a species. Researchers have filmed whales and dolphins teaming up for play. Broadway Producer and Environmental Activist, Obama’s Graduation Address Shows What Real Leadership Looks Like, This Is What You Need to Know about Hawaii’s “Cat Crisis”, World Elephant Day Focuses on Saving Endangered Species, Domestic Cats – An Overlooked Threat to Local Wildlife, Ecosystem Engineers: Animals Working for the Planet, Earthjustice Victory Saves Yellowstone Grizzlies from Trophy Hunting. A variety of communication techniques in bottlenose dolphins, orcas and sperm whales have also been studied extensively. Through echolocation, they are able to process unusually complex sets of information about their environments to help them navigate, hunt, and communicate. One very important piece of evidence which emerged in recent years is the existence in some whale and dolphin species of special brain cells known as spindle cells or Von Economo neurones. This means that their brains have a larger surface area, which possibly correlates with a greater number of information-processing units that can theoretically engage in more complicated thought processes and problem-solving. One of the most well-known studies of dolphin communication was conducted in 1986 by Louis Herman (in Dolphin Cognition and Behaviour: a comparative approach (Comparative Cognition and Neuroscience Series). Killer whales, or orcas, have the second-biggest brains among all ocean mammals, weighing as much as 15 pounds. Some species possess brain cells known as spindle neurons, believed to be associated with empathy and emotional intelligence. Spindle cells are thought to be responsible for ‘rapid intuitive choice in complex social situations’ and are associated with emotions such as empathy. Brain cells linked with intelligence and considered unique to the great apes have now been found in whales, so are they more like us than we thought? The young males were observed repeatedly visiting the locations that their mother had visited in the last few days of her life. Dolphins often create their own games of tag, start high-speed racing games, or throw a fish or an object back and forth. In Shark Bay, Western Australia, female Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins have regularly been observed carrying sponges on their jaws. There is a strong scientific basis for the existence of emotions in species other than our own. Cetacean mothers give birth only a few times, and their young experience delayed sexual maturation and independence. There are even some whales that have started a new behaviour called ‘tread-water’ or ‘trap’ feeding: this has been observed both in humpback and Bryde’s whales. The evidence suggests that whales and dolphins are not only conscious, and that bottlenose dolphins, at least, are self-awareness, but also that they have complex brain structure for complex function, that they often live in complex societies, that they are capable of experiencing a range of emotions. The other region is the frontoinsular cortex, reckoned to be critical for emotional responses to others, such as when someone else is suffering, or a baby cries. The study of brain structure inevitably leads to questions about consciousness. Whales and dolphins behave in ways that suggest intelligence and a sophisticated mind. You can connect with Louise Gund at LinkedIn. For example, through the clicking sounds other members of their pods make during echolocation, dolphins can even figure out which objects others are observing at any given moment. Science with Sam explains. Consciousness is an essential element for experiencing and potentially understanding the world around you and comprehending how you fit in. Its exact purpose remains something of a mystery, but it is believed to be associated with reproduction (either competition between males, or perhaps in relation to mate selection). The average bottlenose dolphin brain weighs around 1,700g, whereas the average adult human brain weighs around 1,300g. The use of tools by other species indicates the ability to physically manipulate the world in order to get something an individual wants or need, or perhaps even just for fun (as for example with the bubble rings produced by bottlenose dolphins). It can be tricky to compare our intelligence with other animals, but it’s something some scientists think about. Nevertheless, such reports are compelling and require closer examination. The more complex behaviours associated with emotions, such as grief, or maternal love, are more difficult to quantify. Bottlenose dolphins in Australia have developed quite a range of tools and methods to aid mealtimes. A native of Berkeley California, Louise Gund has built an accomplished career as a photographer, environmental activist, and Broadway Producer. Some individuals have specific roles to play within their communities as leaders and innovators,– just like us. As a result of the fact that dolphins have evolved in, and adapted to, an aquatic environment there are some striking difference between dolphin and human brain structure. For more information on the origin and evolution of large brains in toothed whales see Marino et al. Does brain size tell us that these species are smarter than us?
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