Decoding Aquatic Intelligence: How Smart Are Dolphins?

Intelligence is a commonly desired attribute that is not actually that common. We humans like to think that we are the smartest creatures on the planet, but there are some animals that could definitely take on us in a game of chess. Take apes, for example. Their intelligence is very close to that of humans. And why shouldn’t it be! They are our closest ancestors, after all!

In terms of smart creatures, dolphins rank pretty high. They know how to have a good time, enjoy their lives, and simultaneously amuse all of humanity with their antics. So what makes dolphins such amazing aquatic creatures?

The First Observation

Today, we know how fun-loving and amusing dolphins can be, but the first time men came to understand this was in the year 1985, when a group of three scientists were out at sea trying to study dolphins. Since there wasn’t much activity there, they soon got bored. To keep themselves entertained, one of them pretended to be Poseidon, the god of the sea.



He placed a crown of seaweed on top of his head and then threw it into the ocean. Moments later, a dolphin appeared, and guess what? It had the same crown sitting on its head!

While this could have been a mere coincidence, it could also be a well-intended attempt of the dolphin to imitate the man.

How It All Began

Dolphins belong to a group of aquatic animals called cetaceans. There are 86 different species in this group (whales and porpoises also belong to this group). In the beginning, the first land animals were also the first cetaceans, and entered the sea 55 million years ago. These mammals were large species with sharp teeth.


Credits:Igor Zh./Shutterstock

20 million years later, there was a drastic shift in the general temperature of seawater, which resulted in the reduction in the availability of prey. This caused many cetaceans to perish, but those that survived were left with larger and more complex, but smaller and less sharp, teeth. Their complex brains accounted for social relationships, attack strategies and communication, but what were these creatures?

Dolphins, of course!

How Smart Are Dolphins?

As we can clearly see, dolphins are able to make social connections, mingle with each other, communicate in highly efficient ways, and even respect other species. Dolphins have been found to react and respond to certain signals and gestures, which demonstrates their complex brain activity.

This isn’t where the story ends; there are many other amazing feats that dolphins can perform. Dolphins even help humans in certain ways when they are at sea. Did you know that?

Check out the video below to see what we mean:


  1. TedEd
  2. Mail Online
  3. National Geographic
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Ashish is a Science graduate (Bachelor of Science) from Punjabi University (India). He spends a lot of time watching movies, and an awful lot more time discussing them. He likes Harry Potter and the Avengers, and obsesses over how thoroughly Science dictates every aspect of life… in this universe, at least.

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