Brownies support whales and dolphins

Dolphin Intelligence

Are you as clever as a dolphin?

I bet if you asked yourself this question you answered “Yes!” or even, “I’m much cleverer than a dolphin!”

But how can we tell?

Here are some of the things human children can do:

• Sit still in class so that their teacher praises or rewards them
• Help around the house for pocket money
• Teach each other playground games
• Help friends in trouble
• Learn about patterns in maths and music
• Work out the answers to problems
• Learn skills from their teachers and parents
• Use tools and equipment to make things
• Recognise faces
• Work together in teams, for instance in sport or music
• Feel love for others and be sad when someone or a pet dies

And there’s lots more of course.

Think now about what else human children can do, or perhaps jot down a list, and then look at these examples of what individual dolphins and groups of dolphins have shown they can do.


Kelly is a dolphin who, sadly for her, lives in captivity in a research centre in the United States. She has been trained to keep her tank clean. Every time she brings a piece of litter to her trainer, she is rewarded with a fish. So she’s built upon the idea. Now, when she finds a piece of paper, she wedges it under a stone, and tears off individual pieces, which she brings to the surface one at a time. Thus, a single piece of litter earns her several fish. She’s also noticed that gulls come to her tank, hungry for fish. So she uses one of her fish as bait, catches the unwary birds, and presents them to her trainers for even more food. She has not only created these amazing tactics by herself, but she’s even passed them on to her calf.


tailwalking dolphinThen there’s Billie, a dolphin who became trapped in a sea-lock in the 1980s. She was rescued and brought back to health in captivity before being released back into the wild just three weeks later. Scientists were amazed to see that, upon her return to the seas, she started tail-walking. It is a trick taught to dolphins in marine parks, and she must have spotted other dolphins getting rewards for doing it. She'd learned to do the trick just by watching, as during her three weeks in captivity she was not trained herself. To have picked up the skill so rapidly is one thing… but Billie was soon teaching her friends in the wild to do the same!

Dolphins can also:

• Use the natural “tools” in the sea to help themselves catch food. For example bottlenose dolphins in Western Australia use sponges on their lower jaws to help the forage for food
• Recognise themselves in a mirror
• Grieve for a close friend or relative’s death
• Feed pod mates who are unwell
• Co-operate with fishermen or with each other to get food
• Communicate with each other in their special language
• Pass on knowledge from generation to generation
• Feel emotions such as empathy (feeling sad or sorry) for a friend or relative

And lots more of course.

orca, the world's largest dolphinScientists are only just beginning to realise just how intelligent dolphins are, how they use their intelligence, how detailed their communication with each other is, and how like the human brain their brains are. In other words, the more we find out about them, the more like us they seem to be.

So the next time someone calls you a clever girl, or a clever boy, or gives you a gold star for learning something, or doing something well, think of Kelly and Billie, and maybe think about how you can help to save them, keep them out of captivity, and make sure they are treated with the respect and care we all deserve.