A large brain for advanced cognitive ability
With the exception of humans, toothed whales, including dolphins, have the largest brains in the animal kingdom with respect to their body size. Moreover, their brain structure is complex, even if it is different than that of primates. This is believed to be an adaptation to their harsh environment, which requires them to process important information, and to the demands of pod life such as communication, collaboration and competition.
Complex behaviours in captivity…
Able to recognize their own reflection, dolphins have awareness of themselves and their behaviours. Like humans, they are capable of imitating sounds and behaviours, in addition to showing innovation during the learning exercises they are given. They understand symbolic representations and mechanisms and are able to use tools. Dolphins are capable of learning a language of complex and abstract signs.
… and in the wild
A number of whale species have a complex social structure consisting of multiple levels of interrelationships, which implies learning and memory requirements for individuals of these species. Several studies have demonstrated cultures specific to different social groups within each species, which suggests the transmission of learned behaviours: dialects, specific feeding sites, innovative feeding and hunting techniques, tool use, etc. In dolphins, killer whales, belugas, and several other species, there is mounting evidence of developed vocal and non-vocal (breaching, lobtailing, etc.) communication.
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