Flipper, say it ain’t so!
Oh, sorry, I guess you can’t…
Dolphins aren’t as smart as you think, and their language skills are way overrated, says self-described “dolphin scientist guy” Justin Gregg.
Gregg, a researcher with the Dolphin Communication Project in Old Mystic, Connecticut, claims that scientists have been overrating dolphin intelligence and linguistic ability for the last half-century.
“Dolphin communication does not seem to be that special. They do have a unique signature whistle, and it’s possible they could use this to communicate, but they don’t seem to have alarm calls or food calls – in that respect they are less sophisticated than chickens.”
That does sound harsh, especially if you eat chickens. I’ll come back to that in a minute.
According to Gregg, scientists got on the wrong track when U.S. neuroscientist John Lilly became interested in their enormous brains back in the ‘50s. The assumption was that the dolphin’s large brain implies great intelligence and that complex localization is a sign of competence.
“Lilly transformed what was regarded as an odd air-breathing fish into an animal so sophisticated it deserves the same constitutional protection as humans,” Gregg says.
This view will surely stir controversy as many scientists advocate civil rights for cetaceans, arguing that dolphins and whales are sufficiently intelligent to justify the same ethical considerations as humans. Dolphins should be treated as non-human “persons”, with their rights to life and liberty respected.
The declaration of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, originally adopted in May 2010, contains the statements “every individual cetacean has the right to life”, “no cetacean should be held in captivity or servitude, be subject to cruel treatment, or be removed from their natural environment”, and “no cetacean is the property of any state, corporation, human group or individual.”
Gregg challenges the science behind these beliefs in his book, Are Dolphins Really Smart? He compares the research into dolphin behavior to studies of other animals, especially those highly intelligent members of the crow and great ape families. He offers first-hand experience on the challenges of trying to figure out what creatures with flippers and a perpetual grin are really thinking.
Now, back to chickens. If dolphins are as dumb as chickens, that means that dolphins are as smart as chickens, too. I have yet to swim with the dolphins, but as a kid up at Uncle Lester’s chicken farm, I swam with the chickens, a white-feathered sea covering each floor of his old red barn. So I know chickens and I can tell you that they are pretty smart. They are pretty good at ticktacktoe, too, if you give them the first move. See the video posted below if you don’t believe me and you have 5 minutes for independent cinema.
All of which means dolphins are still pretty smart. Certainly, none of us would ever eat one, right? I gave up whale years ago myself. Last year, Mark Zuckenberger of Facebook killed all his chickens himself before tossing them on the bbq, as a kind of New Year’s resolution. This year he’s a vegetarian.
For more on the intelligence of chickens in Chinatown, quirky 5 minute video follows: