Thursday, August 24, 2006

Experts argue about dolphins' intelligence!

The scientific and marine conservation communities were divided yesterday in response to a South African academic's research showing dolphins are less intelligent than lab rats or goldfish.
The study, by the University of the Witwatersrand's Paul Manger, claims the large brains of marine mammals such as dolphins and whales are to help cope with being warm-blooded in cold water and not a sign of intelligence.

He argues the dolphin, widely regarded as one of the smartest mammals, does not display enough sophistication in its behaviour to show any more intelligence than a lab rat or goldfish.

"When you look at the structure of the dolphin brain you see it is not built for complex information processing," Professor Manger said.

"You put an animal in a box, even a lab rat or gerbil, and the first thing it wants to do is climb out of it. If you don't put a lid on top of the bowl a goldfish will eventually jump out.

"But a dolphin will never do that. In the marine parks the dividers to keep the dolphins apart are only a foot or two above the water between the different pools."

Why not? Because, Professor Manger says, the thought would simply not cross their minds.
Australia's Dolphin Research Institute conservation director Jeff Weir said people tended to get angry when new evidence came to light about dolphins' character.

"There's something special about them that has fascinated people for thousands of years," he said. "But there's little evidence they're as intelligent as everyone wanted to believe.

"It's not consistent with what people want to believe - and they get upset when it's not true."

Geneticist Dr Bill Sherwin, from the University of NSW, said groups of dolphins now being studied showed the most complex social behaviour outside the human realm.

"They do have pretty complicated behaviour. There's nothing complex in chimpanzees, orang-utans or gorillas," he said.

"I've worked with a number of different species and dolphins definitely look like they're thinking about you, and reacting to you and other things in their environment.

"This is compared to another species I worked with, the bandicoot, where you could stand there and they would repeatedly run into your legs.

"When you watch dolphins interacting in groups, it's like watching office politics. The male alliances constantly change - it must take some sort of brain capacity to do that sort of thing."

Quick "Facts about Dolphins"