Dolphin Culture, Intelligence and Individuality

Dolphin Culture, Dolphin Sounds, Dolphin Intelligence

The scientific evidence on Dolphin culture is nothing short of astonishing and suggests that these creatures, over a 50 million years of evolution, have development extremely complex ways of being and physiological abilities.

Dolphin Culture, Intelligence and Individuality

Dolphins from around the world are categorized into 36 different species of which 32 are recognized as marine dolphins and 4 as river dolphins. To the exception of humans and sharks. Some dolphins have no marine predators, making them apex predators. [1] 

Just like humans, they have a complex brain structure which leads to a full range of emotions. While the average absolute brain mass for humans has been measured to weigh 1300-1400 grams, the bottlenose dolphin’s brain was measured at 1500-1700 grams, which is slightly greater than that of humans.

For thousand of years, people have recognized the dolphin’s superior brilliance and altruistic personalities. However, in recent times, more primitive and less broadly exposed cultures, found in remote areas of the world, have only valued dolphins for their flesh.

Dolphins are ancient mammals

Dolphins are cetacean closely related to whales and porpoises. Fossil evidence suggests the cetaceans share a common ancestor with land-dwelling mammals that began living in marine environments around 50 million years ago.

They do not have gills and have adapted to the ocean life by learning to breathe. They breathe air and surface periodically to exhale carbon dioxide before inhaling a fresh supply of oxygen through a blowhole on top of their head.

Advanced healing abilities

Not only can dolphins tolerate more pain but they have been observed recovering from extreme injuries such as shark bites. [2]

The healing process is rapid and even very deep wounds do not cause dolphins to hemorrhage to death. Even when gaping wounds are restored, infection seems rare. Dolphins don’t just heal, they regenerate.

“Dolphins may well be carrying information as well as functions critical to the regeneration of life upon our planet.”

– R. Buckminster Fuller

Echolocation – sensitivity to sound

Following extensive research, echolocation has been identified as a key element of dolphin life. It is what allows them to communicate in the water by identifying sound waves. [3]

With those trademark clicks and squeaks, which are amongst the highest sounds made by any marine animal, dolphins use sound to perceive the world around them. They then use these echoes to locate and identify objects. Overall, dolphins can hear frequencies ten times or more above the upper limit of adult human hearing.

Electroreception – sensitivity to electric fields

Research published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society and covered in a July 2011, New Scientist article, revealed that researchers at the University of Rostock in Germany proved that certain structures on the Guiana dolphins head, who live around the coast of South America, were actually sensory organs which could detect electric fields in water. [4]

After examining the structures in a dead dolphin, and training a live one to respond to an electric field comparable to that generated by a fish, the team demonstrated that dolphins also have electro-sensory perception. Previously the only known mammal capable of this was the platypus. As such, scientists now suspect many other dolphins, and even some whales have this ability.

Highly social – altruistic

Dolphins are highly social animals and they have a highly evolved sense of culture. They often living in pods of up to a dozen individuals, even though pod sizes and structures vary greatly between species and locations. In places with a high abundance of food, pods can merge temporarily, forming a superpod; such groupings may exceed 1,000 dolphins.

Dolphins do establish strong social bonds; often displaying incredible selflessness and care for others. They will stay with injured or ill individuals, even helping them to breathe by bringing them to the surface if needed. They have also been seen protecting swimmers from sharks by swimming in circles around the swimmers or charging the sharks to make them go away. [5]

Struggle in captivity

Dolphins are highly intelligent, socially complex beings who form close bonds with their family, and the trade for captivity regularly rips through these bonds. As conscious breathers, dolphins can choose not to take their next breath. Over half of all captured dolphins will die or commit suicide within 2 years of their captivity.

Interestingly, sharks also struggle to live in captivity and until recently few sharks had ever survived in public aquariums for more than one year. [6] [7]

Dolphins have culture, individuality and language

Dolphins also display culture, something long believed to be unique to humans. For example, a scientists in Australia have found Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins teaching their young to use tools. Scientist have observed dolphins covering their snouts with sponges to protect themselves while foraging. Using sponges as mouth protection is a learned behavior. [8]

Bottlenose dolphins have also been found to have signature whistles, a whistle that is unique to a specific individual. These dolphin sounds are used in order for dolphins to communicate with one another and to identifying each other. It can be seen as the dolphin equivalent of a name for humans.

These signature dolphin sounds, or whistles, are developed during a dolphin’s first year; it continues to maintain the same sound throughout its lifetime. An earlier misconception about dolphin vocalization is that dolphin’s sounds are mainly self-identifications. Later scientists noticed dolphins using more complicated whistles during complex social situations. This suggests that the dolphins are exchanging more information other than simply self-identification. 

Drive hunting

Meanwhile, in coastal areas, dolphins are hunted by “drive-fishing” or “drive hunting” techniques, in which the dolphins are herded into net cages by loud banging sounds that disrupt their sensitive sonar, causing them to panic. When the dolphins are in the bay, it is quickly closed off with nets so the dolphins cannot escape. The dolphins are then caught one by one and killed. Some dolphins who sense the severity of the situation will commit suicide before this happens. See a recent article in the Dailymail U.K. about a recent dolphin suicide, here

The most notable drive hunters are the Japanese from a small village called Taiji. Every year from September to April local fisherman go hunting for dolphins. In the face of activist opposition, these fisherman claim to have been cultured into whaling since 1675 which gives them the rights to carry out these executions. They do this, knowing the nutritional value found in dolphin meat are not special and can be found in many other food groups.

Facing new realities and the limits of specialization

In 2014, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe asked for understanding of Japanese dolphin hunting in a small town of (Taiji) in western Japan when responding to U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy.

He said “The dolphin hunting is an ancient practice rooted in their culture and supports their livelihood. In every country and region, there are practices and ways of living and culture that have been handed down from ancestors. Naturally, I feel that they should be respected.” 

So which ancient culture should be respected? Dolphin culture is real and it is much more ancient, sophisticated and vital to the entire ecosystem.

I’ll suggest that many leaders as well as older and younger apprentices of this dolphin hunting culture and in all related industries, lack broad knowledge and are mostly fearful that given their highly specialized community and related business practices of the past, they are likely to find themselves without transferable work. This is a problem and it demonstrates the limits of specialization. Authorities must provide dolphin hunters with some alternatives paths to encourage new behaviors and a respect for dolphin culture.

If you love the content in this blog about dolphin culture, we invite you to check out our extremely well-reviewed book, Conceptual Revolutions in Science by Adam B. Dorfman. [9]

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    By: Honey Goode

    Honey Goode is a Registered Nurse and became an International Yoga Teacher, Project Contributor and Writer at She is currently traveling in South East Asia and exploring the entrepreneurial world while teaching yoga at various fitness gym, studios and private classes. Honey believe in attaining one’s highest potential with the guidance and understanding of the inner philosophy of yoga and mindful meditation.

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