How Smart Are Dolphins? A TED-Ed Video

Dr. Lori Marino has created a TED-Ed video, “Why Dolphins Are So Smart” as part of the series Lessons Worth Sharing.

Dr. Marino worked with the TED folks and a group of talented producers and artists from Zedem Media, Inc. to produce this animated lesson on dolphin intelligence (also available on TED’s YouTube channel).

There’s also a lesson plan with multiple-choice questions, a “Dig Deeper” section with lots of links to explore, and a discussion area that poses the question:

“A lot of scientific research shows that dolphins are not happy or healthy performing tricks in marine parks. How would you propose to solve this problem?”

(Go ahead and respond with your own view on what could and should be done.)

TED is well known for featuring cutting edge ideas from around the world and TED-Ed uses short, engaging videos to share those ideas. Take a moment to check out the video, and encourage other people to watch it, too, and to share their responses to the final question.

New Imaging Technique Reveals Dolphin Brain Pathways

Figure shows the new pathways (in blue and yellow) connecting the midbrain of a dolphin to the temporal lobe.

Two dolphins who died more than a decade ago on a North Carolina beach are now the focus of an unprecedented finding in the scientific literature, giving scientists new information about how dolphin brains process sounds.

The new paper is co-authored by Kimmela Center Executive Director Lori Marino, who joined with colleagues at Emory University and at the University of Oxford to use a new imaging method, called Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI), to explore the connections between areas in the two dolphin brains. Each of the large brains had to be scanned for over 12 hours for the imaging data to be obtained.

Earlier studies of a different type, done with live dolphins in Russia, showed that the pathway from the inner ear to the cortex of the brain culminates at the apex of the brain next to the visual processing area. All of that made sense because dolphins are echolocators and integrate visual and acoustic information very quickly.

The unique arrangement of the dolphin brain was added to existing pathways already laid down in mammals.

But when Marino and her colleagues used DTI to examine connections in the postmortem dolphin brains they discovered something never before seen: yet another pathway from the ear to a different part of the brain, the temporal lobe, where the primary auditory cortex of most mammals is located.

This second connection shows that the unique arrangement of the dolphin brain was added to existing pathways already laid down in mammals.

“We found that there are probably multiple areas in the dolphin brain associated with auditory information, and the neural pathways look similar to those of a bat,” lead author Greg Berns says. “This is surprising because dolphins and bats are far apart on the evolutionary tree. They diverged tens of millions of years ago but their brains may have evolved similar mechanisms for using sound not just to hear, but to also create mental images.”

Now that this imaging technique has demonstrated it can reveal connectivity patterns in postmortem cetacean brains, a whole world of opportunity opens up for exploring dolphin and whale brains, and all non-invasively.

Pigs Are Smart – and Machiavellian

Winston Churchill famously said: “A dog looks up to you; a cat looks down on you; only a pig treats you as an equal.”

But that, of course, is hardly how we treat them in return. Pigs are typically viewed as things to be born in cages and kept in cages until they’re ready to be processed into pork chops and sausages.

Two scientists have now concluded that pigs are indeed extraordinarily complex animals, and that they share many of the characteristics we admire in, for example, dogs, chimpanzees, dolphins and humans.

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Update on Hercules and Leo Order to Show Cause

The Nonhuman Rights Project issued the following update this afternoon on its lawsuit regarding chimpanzees Hercules and Leo.

This afternoon Judge Barbara Jaffe amended yesterday’s ORDER TO SHOW CAUSE & WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS by striking out the words “& WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS” from the title of her Order.

This case is one of a trio of cases that the Nonhuman Rights Project has brought in an attempt to free chimpanzees imprisoned within the State of New York through an “Article 70–Habeas Corpus” proceeding. These cases are novel and this is the first time that an Order to Show Cause has issued. We are grateful for an opportunity to litigate the issue of the freedom of the chimpanzees, Hercules and Leo, at the ordered May hearing.

The hearing is now scheduled for Wednesday, May 27 at 10:30 am at the New York County Supreme Court, 80 Centre St., New York, NY 10013. The hearing is open to the public.

Historic Win for Nonhuman Rights Project

In an unprecedented decision, Judge Barbara Jaffe of the Supreme Court of the State of New York has signed a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of two chimpanzee plaintiffs of the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), Hercules and Leo.

These are the first two nonhuman beings to be considered legal persons under the common law.

Hercules and Leo, who have been used in research for years, are currently held at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and are “owned” by The New Iberia Research Center in Louisiana. The court case, which was originally dismissed in Brooklyn and then recently re-filed in Manhattan by the NhRP, means that the judge ruled there is sufficient cause for Stony Brook to appear before a court and explain why they are keeping Hercules and Leo captive.

The scientific evidence used by the NhRP for this and the other chimpanzee cases was compiled by The Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy.

There is still a long way to go in the battle to free Hercules and Leo, the other two plaintiffs Kiko and Tommy, and all other chimpanzees being held against their will in captivity. But if the NhRP prevails, Hercules and Leo will probably be ordered to be sent to sanctuary at Save the Chimps, where they will lead lives that are as close as possible to their natural life in the wild. No longer will they be manipulated and constrained for human curiosity. Instead they will be free to make friends and the kinds of decisions all autonomous beings – all persons – want to make about their lives.

This decision has broken through a legal wall that has remained shut tight until now. It sets a precedent which can only facilitate the work of the NhRP and others who know that real cultural change will come when chimpanzee (and other nonhuman animal) rights are acknowledged and respected.

Brainiacs of the Sea and the Land

Students experienced an exciting opportunity to learn about cetacean intelligence from Dr. Lori Marino at the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC)’s March 2015 Science Saturday, about “Dolphins, Brainiacs of the Sea“.

Dr. Marino shared her knowledge and her passion for animals while showing that science is fun. Over 80 third through fifth graders had the amazing experience of doing hands-on science and learning about dolphins in the context of their high intelligence. Fun and excitement are among the sparks that light a desire for science learning – and both were plentiful during this Science Saturday.

Fun and excitement light a desire for science learning.

The morning sessions included a hands-on activity designed to teach them how to determine the brain size of different animals by filling their skulls with corn kernels and measuring these out in graduated cylinders. The students measured the cranial volume of several different local species including black bear, raccoon, dog, cougar and alligators from specimens provided by the The Silver River Museum and Environmental Education Center. They compared their measurements to the large brain volume of a bottlenose dolphin specimen from the Florida Museum of Natural History, calculated an Encephalization Quotient (a measure of brain to body size) for each species and then pooled their data to make a graph comparing dolphin EQ with that of the other species and even humans. They also learned logical thinking and mathematics as they went through the steps of comparing brain and body ratios and estimating and comparing EQ for each species.

From the extensive questions and intense looks on their faces as they made their measurements, it was clear the students were getting a lot out of their journey into the world of science that morning.