Do Dolphins Have a Sense of the Future? -A Galaxy Classic

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June 10, 2008

Do Dolphins Have a Sense of the Future? -A Galaxy Classic

Dolphin_2They’re labeled the smartest mammals on Earth that aren’t human, and at the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Mississippi, Kelly the Dolphin is earning her reputation. In fact, it could very well be that she has now got the upper hand on her human trainers… or pets?

All the Dolphins at the center are trained to retrieve trash that has mistakenly fallen in to their pools. Upon seeing a nearby trainer, they are to take said trash to the trainer. In return, they receive a fish for their cleanliness.

However it seems that Kelly has found a loophole in the system, and is exploiting it to interesting ends. She hoards her trash, underneath a rock at the bottom of her pool, and when she sees a trainer she goes down and removes a piece of paper or trash to get her fish. However she won’t use all her paper at once, instead she holds on to them for the future. It is an interesting behavior, considering that it is very much like humans storing food for the winter; it displays an awareness of tomorrow.

Dolphins have long been observed to take great care and exhibit much intelligence in their day to day lives. Scientists have observed a dolphin using the spiny body of a dead scorpion fish to extricate a moray eel out of a crevice.

Comparatively, in Australia, Dolphins have been witnessed to place sea-sponges over their snouts as they star poking around in the surrounding area. This protection helps them from being stung by stonefish and stingrays.

But it isn’t just these behaviors that seem to prove their intelligence, but also the commonalities with humans in the way that they play and learn.

Younger dolphin calves will most likely learn new things in an attempt to keep up with those around them, rather than learn directly from their mothers. From balancing kelp on their tail to swimming through bubble rings, it seems an effort to match their peers is what drives them on.

And just as young children are always trying to match those around them, so they want to enjoy the activity rather than just the outcome. It isn’t always a case of the means justifying the ends. The same goes for dolphins, who seem to beef up the level of difficulty of the games they create for themselves.

It is their ability to understand sentences of sign language that astound though, with a sentence like “touch the frisbee with your tail and then jump over it” returning just that from the dolphin. This proves more than just rigorous training is the answer, but an understanding of what we are asking of them.

So next time you’re in the water with the dolphins, as I hope to be one day, make sure you tip your hat to them. It may very well be that the Simpsons got it right again that we might be facing an invasion from Dolphins any day now.

Posted by Josh Hill

Related Galaxy Post:

Cetacea: Mind-Bending Theories About the Planet's “Other” Intelligent Life


Comments's not like saving food for winter. It's like a bank account! She's "buying" fish treats from the trainers.

Seriously? I mean dolphins do have limited intelligence and with most predators they do have a sense of the future but really your trying to tell me that because she hoards trash to "purchase" fish and say its because she's as intelligent as her trainers is BS. Its a very complicated cause/effect learning loop but in all reality she is just doing the same thing as saving food for later. Please tell me when dolphins start doing experiments to learn more about their environment. Even a dog that gets bonked on the head when it does wrong, learns to lower its head to avoid getting hit.

tl;dr Dolphins are just advanced dogs, people hype dolphin intelligence too much.

Anyone who fishes our coasts will tell you they are smarter and closer to us then a grouper:)

lighten up tl

Really guys? I understand that this behavior is similar to "humans storing food for the winter" but uhm...I'm pretty sure a bunch of other animals do the same! It's interesting, no doubt, but planning ahead doesn't mean that dolphins are smarter than humans (granted there are probably dolphins that are smarter than most people) I don't think this is good evidence.

Lindsay aren't you missing the point a bit? The dolphin wasn't merely "hoarding food" it was hording a currency that it clearly understood could be exchanged for food, and not only that but was getting the most "bang for its buck" by spreading the "dollar" out as much as possible. That does suggest a reasonable sense of the future. I'm sure other animals could pull off similar feats, but that's not the point. The point wasn't that all other animals are dumb, its just that dolphins are incredibly smart.

After electing Bush twice, I would say Dolphins are a stretch. We should be using monkeys for analogies

So long and thanks for all the fish!

A lot of your aren't getting the point. This creature taught this trick to itself. It learned that picking up the articles of trash would result in a treat. So it began storing them in a place where the trainers couldn't see, knowing that fooling them would result in more treats in the future.

Sure another animal can learn this, but probably through training and a lot of it.

I think the average bonehead American would just pick up the trash, lure the trainer in, and beat him over the head to take all the fish at once. So sure perhaps a human can do this, but the article is proving so can a dolphin.

If they're capable of this and sign language (99.9% of people aren't) then maybe they are a lot more intelligent than we know.

I must admit, that the storing trash like a form of "currency" is impressive. What I would find even more impressive, though, would be to see a dolphin "loan" some of that "currency" to a fellow dolphin so they, too, could get a treat. That would, indeed, make them BETTER than humans.

What most of you single-minded naysayers are not getting is, that dolphins live in an entirely different environment then us humans. They also do not have limbs with prehensile digits. They use what they have, in amazing ways. They also think differently as a result of their entirely different world veiw, however...they can learn to communicate with us after a fashion.

So yes, I'd say on a very strong level. They are smarter and more gifted then us mere humans...we simply have thumbs...

Douglas Adams knew this years ago. I'm sure you know this, but I just thought I would bring it up.

for all of those whose comments are negative here, it may be wise to actually do some research and discover that dolphins have a 'vocabulary' that is 3000 times larger than humans.
i find it hilarious that humans worship themselves because they need to use external technologies in order to survive.
most humans do not realize how primitive they are themselves. get over your egos fools.
humans don't need to be the most intelligent to be important or amazing in our own right.
so stop behaving like children in your attitudes.

We need to develop prosthetic hands for them and see how smart they get when they can manipulate their own environment.

I remember reading a similar story not long ago where the dolphin actually took this concept to a whole other level. It wasn't just that the dolphin would store the trash for later, she would hide the litter at the bottom of her enclosure, and tear off little pieces of the trash and bring each piece to the trainer for a piece of fish... realizing that you can increase the value of your commodity for trade seems pretty advanced to me. Further, this dolphin would then take the fish that were provided as treats, and let them float or swim or whatever around the tank until they attracted the attention of a gull. Bringing a sea bird which had stumbled into the tank to the trainer was considered more of an accomplishment, which resulted in greater rewards -- more fish than the one she would have recieved for cleaning up the paper or other litter in her tank. The storing food for later argument doesn't seem to apply here -- this dolphin had truly grasped a fairly complicated system of commerce, imho.

Dolphins are indeed highly intelligent.RCB wondered about a dolphin loaning a fish to another dolphin.I work with stranded and injured dolphins. During a rehabilitation of a group of roughtoothed dolphins, one of the dolphins was on a very strict diet of squid,2 of her pod mates were more than willing to share their fish with her. It was amazing to see how closely dolphins work and play together. To bad humans don't get along that well.

I remember another dolphin story that shows their high intelligence. Researchers were able to teach a dolphin to make up its own tricks. That is, the new trick was "do a new trick". Every time the dolphin did something that he hadn't before, he would get a treat. That dolphin got pretty creative, mixing jumps, splashes, spins, bubbles, and toy manipulation in endless combinations. He could also do a "repeat your last trick" trick, proving that he knew the difference. Try teaching "do a new trick" to your dog :)

Dolphins have larger brains than humans.

While humans have a large visual area, dolphins have a huge auditory area.

There's evidence dolphins are linguistic savants.

Everything i need to know, i learned from the Simpsons,

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