Are Dolphins Really Smart?

Bookshelf: Are Dolphins Really Smart?

Are Dolphins Really Smart? – Justin Gregg

Are Dolphins Really Smart?
Are Dolphins Really Smart?

Beliefs about dolphins’ superior intelligence, bond with humans, mystical abilities and their disproportionate intellectual capabilities abound. There is a personhood movement that seeks to acquire rights for dolphins just like humans. In Are Dolphins Really Smart?, marine mammal scientist Justin Gregg examines the evidence for outsize dolphin intelligence, and compares it to other animals. I was pleased to see chickens get more than a mention!

Dr Gregg‘s frustration with the “woo” surrounding dolphins is palpable as he attempts to demolish the facade of pseudo-science and fantasy that dolphins seem to attract. Secretly I think that many people want to believe that there is something magical about dolphins, even without subscribing to the fact that they can heal at a distance or communicate with aliens. For that reason (I think), I found this a fairly uncomfortable and negative read. Predictably the book caused a bit of a media storm upon its release. It’s a short read, but requires careful scrutiny in order not to miss the subtleties and brutalise the message.

This book is perhaps less about dolphins than you might expect, and more about the difficulties in studying animal cognition and intelligence. It is enlightening, for someone who isn’t a scientist, to gain an understanding of the challenges involved – not just in studying, but in actually first defining the terms of reference.

You can also read reviews at Southern Fried Science (read the comments too), and Discover Magazine.

If you’re interested in animal intelligence and (dare I say it) emotions, let me recommend Carl Safina’s latest book, Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel. If you’re particularly into dolphins, I suggest Susan Casey’s Voices in the Ocean for a broad layman’s overview with a focus that is not purely scientific, and Dolphin Confidential by Maddalena Bearzi for the field scientist’s perspective.

Get the book here (South Africa), here, or here.

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Lapsed mathematician, creator of order, formulator of hypotheses. Lover of the ocean, being outdoors, the bush, reading, photography, travelling (especially in Africa) and road trips.

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