Subject: Cetacean intelligence

S. Jones (
Tue, 4 Aug 1998 09:50:42 -0700 (PDT)

On Fri, 31 Jul 1998 wrote:

> Hello!
>     My question is, which is smarter, a whale or a doliphin?
>                                                  Jillian
>                                                       tulsa, ok
Dear Jillian,

Well, I suppose that depends on how you define intelligence.  One
definition is: the ability of animals to resolve problems related to their
survival through mental processes.  Another definition is: the ability of
animals to solve difficult problems, reason, imagine, be creative,
communicate using complex language, etc - many of the things that humans
can do.  In the first case, whales and dolphins can be considered
intelligent because they have existed for 18 million years - they must
know how to survive in their environment.  But, in the second case, whales
and dolphins lack many of the human qualitites mentioned above and are
therefore no different from other animals.

People tend to associate large brain size with higher intelligence.  Yet,
the brain of the cetacean is not that large in proportion to its body
size.  The number of brain cells and the connections between them is
actually more important than brain size in determining intelligence.  In
cetaceans, the cerebral cortex is highly developed, as this is the place
where sensory information about their environment is processed.

We must all remember that whales and dolphins live in an environment
completely foreign to humans.  Their mental processes are completely
different than ours.  Therefore, it is difficult to measure intelligence
on the same scale.

Whether whales are smarter than dolphins is difficult to say, since they
have evolved to live in the same environment, yet have different feeding
and breeding behavior.  They also use sound to communicate with each other
in different ways and utilize different parts of the ocean for their

Hope this information is helpful.

Bete Jones