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March 5, 2015: Kimmela Center Executive Director Lori Marino gave a talk entitled “Dolphin Brains: An Alternative to Complex Intelligence in Primates” at the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC) in Ocala, Florida.

The award winning IHMC Evening Lecture Series provides a community forum where individuals gather to hear presentations in topics from science and technology to urban planning to aviation.

The talk explored dolphin and whale evolution, brain size and cognitive complexity with an audience of over 300. Earlier in the day, Dr. Marino met with engineers, scientists and high school interns at the Institute to talk about artificial and nonhuman intelligence and explore the many fascinating possibilities for understanding how intelligence and consciousness evolves.

Family, friends, and freedom are as important to dolphins as they are to us humans.After the talk the IHMC staff, board members and supporters held a dinner in her honor, after which the audience and dinner companions engaged in a round-robin game of “Ask the Scientist” where everyone got to ask a question they’ve always wanted answered about dolphins and whales.

Dr. Marino explained that family, friends, and freedom are as important to dolphins as they are to us humans. And people were surprised to learn, for example, that:

  • The closest living relative to dolphins and whales is the hippopotamus. (One audience member guessed correctly!)
  • Dolphins and whales have the second highest level of encephalization (a measure of relative brain size) next to modern humans and have had their big brains for 15 million years – demonstrating that our species is just an upstart when it comes to braininess.
  • Dolphin and whale brains, on one hand, and primate brains, on the other, represent two very different ways large complex brains have evolved – “two different ways brains can produce complex intelligence and self-awareness.”
  • In addition to being able to recognize themselves in mirrors, dolphins can also play a form of the game Jeopardy in which they report (by pressing paddles) how certain they are about the answer to questions on a continuum of easy to very difficult. This ability, and self-recognition, mean that dolphins are self-aware.

Although humans like to pride themselves on their cultural sophistication, dolphins and whales share a lot of these characteristics like culture, social clubs, cooperation, and even tool use.

6 thoughts on “Brainiacs of the Sea

  1. EL HOMBRE NO VALORA A LOS ANIMALES PORQUE SE CREE UNICO Y PODEROSO ,.COMO HA DICHO LA DOCTORA LOS DELFINES ,BALLENAS Y TODOS LOS ANIMALES TIENEN VIDA PROPIA Y FAMILIA PROPIA Y HAN NACIDO LIBRES,. ,Y MERECEN EL MISMO RESPETO QUE SE LE DA A LA VIDA HUMANA

  2. AUSTRALIAN DOLPHINS – We’re speaking up for the captive performing dolphins at Sea World Gold Coast Australia with the help of international and local celebrities but we also need your help, and voice.

    Anthony La Paglia, Simon Cowell, Shailene Woodley, Pamela Anderson, Olivia Newton John, Ricky Gervais, Bryan Adams, Matt Damon, Matthew Modine, Willy Nelson, Cher,Rachel Hunter, Tommy Lee, Jennifer Aniston, Maggie Q, Paul Rudd, Woody Harrelson, Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, David Crosby, Courtney Cox, Dave Navarro, Mariska Hargitay, James Gandolfini, John Leguizamo, Russell Simmons, Olivia Wilde, Scout LaRue Willis, Russell Brand, Joan Jett, Howard Stern, Aaron Paul (from ‘Breaking Bad’), Kathy Najimy, Niki Taylor, Hayden Panettiere, Mayim Bialik, Meg Matthews, Chet Faker, Wil Anderson, Todd McKenny, Christine Anu, Steve Kilbey, Marcia Hines, Sia, Tyson Beckford, Sinnitta, Ewan McGregor, Steve-O, Conan O’Brien, Elvira, Josh Groban, Jason Biggs, Motley Crue, Arianna Grande, Krysten Ritter, Chloe Lattanzi, Sharni Vinson, Samantha Fox, Alexandra Paul, Gina Liano, Jonathan Coleman, Alyce Platt, The Veronicas, Lincoln Lewis, Phil Jamieson (Grinspoon), Anthony Ackroyd, Livinia Nixon, Former Miss Universe Australia Laura Dundovic, Havana Brown, Cheyenne Tozzi, Caitlin Stasey, Silvana Philippoussis, Ella Hooper, Annalise Braakensiek all say:

    AUSSIE DOLPHINS HAVE BEEN STOLEN FROM THE OCEAN AND SOME BRED IN CAPTIVITY BUT ALL ARE FORCED TO PERFORM DAILY AT SEA WORLD ON THE GOLD COAST, QUEENSLAND.

    “The whole world is up in arms about Sea World and other aquaprisons. It’s time that Australians opened their eyes and became educated to the cruelty of trapping and keeping captive dolphins”. June Bird Killington – Founder of SEAWORLD SHUT DOWN on Facebook.

    ‘SEAWORLD SHUT DOWN on Facebook. The First & Only Campaign Against Sea World in Australia’ . Over 7,000 Followers.

    Also on Twitter @seaworldisevil – Over 4,700 Followers

    Trevor Long, Marine Science Director at Sea World Gold Coast says: “Dolphins aren’t some amazing creature, in the wild they just rape and rape and rape”. (Quoted from Gold Coast Bulletin interview January 2015).

    Please help us to speak up for the captive performing dolphins at Sea World on the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia.

    We love them rescuing cetaceans but we loathe them keeping dolphins as captives in their aquaprison.

    The dolphins need to be rehabilitated and freed or taken to a safe sanctuary/bay/cove paid for by Sea World to live out their lives without human interference.

    India, Croatia, Hungary New York, South Carolina, Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Nicaragua, Slovenia, Switzerland, Brazil, Luxembourg, Norway and the U.K have already banned cetaceans in captivity and so far there are over 15,000 signatures on the petition and a Facebook page with over 7,000 followers.

    The dolphins are caught from the ocean and brought to tanks/lagoons and are also bred in captivity where they are forced to perform for paying customers and given dead fish but only if they do tricks. All to make money for greedy Sea World business people.

    “Sea World Gold Coast Australia – Keeping dolphins as prisoners since the 70s”

    http://www.change.org/en-AU/petitions/seaworld-australia-please-tell-seaworld-that-we-demand-the-closure-of-their-foul-aquaprison-sea-creatures-forced-to-do-tricks-in-swimming-pools-it-s-time-to-say-no-to-animal-cruelty-in-all-forms

  3. It was a wonderful talk, Lori, thank you for visiting IHMC and sharing your knowledge and passion about cetaceans.

  4. Anyone-

    I am persuaded that cetaceans are very intelligent, but can’t understand why they continue to be so easily captured. Many other less advanced animals learn to avoid humans, why not dolphins?

    Bob Stolzle

    1. Bob – that is a great question and one that has been asked many times. Dolphins are cultural animals and have used the same migration routes for thousands of years. So, it is difficult for them to break tradition and use other routes. Also, one a group is captured, essentially none escape. So, there is no one to tell them what is happening. The captured dolphins either die in the cove or are taken away by trainers from marine parks.

      The other important point to remember about dolphins is that their social bonds are so strong and so important that when even a few individuals are herded into the cove, they all follow, and they do not leave each other under stressful circumstances. This noble quality is taken advantage of by the killers.

      Thanks for your question and comments.
      Lori.

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