Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?


Dolphins not so smart after all?

CNV00005_14We’ve been told that dolphins are the smartest creature after humans.

Apparently it’s not true! We’ve been conned by the dolphin’s smile and stories of its social and sometimes helpful behaviour.

That’s according to Justin Gregg, a biologist and researcher with the Dolphin Communication Project, who has just written a book “Are dolphins really smart?” in which he challenges previous scientific research.

Dolphins show many complex behaviours such as living in large groups, showing empathy and communicating with their peers but such behaviours are also found in other animals such as chickens, pigs, and bears.

So dolphins are not so special after all it seems and furthermore have a propensity to be violent towards their fellow cetaceans such as porpoises.

The book comes out at a time when some academics are calling for more protection and moral rights for dolphins based on their brain power. Only last year scientists called for them to be classed as non-human persons.

The idea that dolphins were special dates back to the 1950s when neuroscientist John Lilly wondered why they had such large brains and experimented on them convinced they were trying to communicate with him in dolphinese.  The television series Flipper contributed to their popularity in the 1960s. And in the past both American and Russian navies have used trained dolphins for marine warfare purposes.

Gregg thinks that in some respects they are less sophisticated than chickens having no distress or food calls.  And bottle-nosed dolphins have been recorded killing harbour porpoises, seemingly for the fun of it as they don’t eat them. In Australia groups of male dolphins have been observed isolating females and forcibly mating with them.

My only experience of dolphins, swimming with them in Cuba, was a painful experience when one of them (pictured) thrashed my leg with it’s tail giving me a dead-leg in the water. Very painful but I put it down to the young creature’s mischievousness and went back in for a second session. Looking back I’m not so sure!

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Dolphins, you just can’t trust them

Slide1The US Navy announced last year that they were discontinuing the training of dolphins and sealions for marine warfare, a programme which began in the 1960s using the dolphins sonar capabilities to detect mines and enemy swimmers.

In Ukraine however they have just recommenced a programme,  first started by the Russians in 1973, at the Crimean port of Sevastapol. The Russians were training dolphins to locate seabed mines, attack enemy divers, and carry explosives to plant on ships.

Despite frequent pictures in the press showing dolphins with naval equipment strapped to them the Ukrainian Defence Ministry refuses to acknowledge the existence of any such programme.

In any case it’s not gone too well as three of the five dolphins sent out have gone AWOL after swimming away from their handlers according to Ukrainian and Russian news outlets. It’s believed that they have gone off to look for mates (well you know what they say about sailors…).

Yuri Plyachenko, a former Russian naval anti-sabotage officer associated with the programme in the 1980s told the Russian state news agency that it was quite common for them to do this when they saw female dolphins in the mating season but they always returned.

If female Ukrainian dolphins are as good-looking as Ukrainian women then who can blame them? And although they look playful they can be just as devious as humans and demonstrate human-like behaviour as Sponging Eve showed..


Dolphins can be devious, just like people

CNV00005_14A crafty cetacean called Kelly has learned how to manipulate its keepers to get extra food.

Dolphins in captivity in Mississippi had been trained to retrieve litter from their pool and when they did they got extra food as a reward for each piece.

But Kelly was getting more than her share of rewards compared to the other dolphins. Kelly would retrieve litter but then hide it. When she felt hungry she simply tore off a piece and presented that to receive a reward.

This is similar to what female operatives used to do in a factory I once worked in. When it was coming up to a special event, like getting married, they would hide work they had finished and “bank” it until the week before their wedding. Then they would suddenly produce a bumper output and boost their bonuses.

So do factory workers think like dolphins or are dolphins cuter than we think (in more ways than one).

btw the young dolphin in the picture (not Kelly but one in Cuba) sideswiped me in the pool, where we were swimming with a number of them, and gave me a painful dead-leg. Just being playful or pissed off with tourists? If I’d started drowning would it have rescued me?