Smart Dolphins

Cool interview in NYT the other day with Diana Reiss, psychology professor/dolphin researcher.  This anecdote kind of floored me:

Let me tell you a story. One of the first dolphins I ever worked with was Circe. I’d bring her a fish when I wanted her to do certain things. If she didn’t do them, I did a “time-out” where I turned my back and walked away. Well, there was a certain type of fish that Circe loathed because it had a spiny tail. So I accommodated her by cutting the spines off of the tail. One day, I forgot to do that. Circe spit it out, swam to the other side of the pool and placed herself into a vertical position that mimicked my time-out. I wanted to test this. I gave her untrimmed fish on four different days. Whenever I gave her fish with spiny tails, she gave me a time-out. What that suggested was that she saw time out as a correction and used it back on me. Well, that’s how we learn to communicate.

I love the image of the dolphin, fins crossed over its chest, freezing out Reiss because she’s pissed about being fed the wrong fish.  Just the latest proof that Douglas Adams was right about dolphins’ smarts…

man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much–the wheel, New York, wars and so on–while all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man–for precisely the same reasons.

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 (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)

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