News Release: Faculty Experts, Research

Feb. 19,  2010

What's in a Dolphin's Tool Kit?

News Article ImageTwo bottlenose dolphins playing with a bubble ring they just created. Photo by Brenda McCowan.

Dolphins have been seen using sponges, perhaps to protect their mouths from coral. And some bottlenose dolphins create rings of mud with their tails to trap fish.

"You don't need hands to create tools, you just need a clever mind," says Emory neuroscientist Lori Marino, an expert in dolphin neuroanatomy. Marino is speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science  annual meeting on Sunday, Feb. Feb. 21, about how the high intelligence of dolphins calls for us to rethink how we treat them.

"Many modern dolphin brains are significantly larger than our own and second in mass to the human brain when corrected for body size," Marino says.

Some dolphin brains exhibit features correlated with complex intelligence, she says, including a large expanse of neocortical volume that is more convoluted than our own, extensive insular and cingulated regions, and highly differentiated cellular regions.

"Dolphins are sophisticated, self-aware, highly intelligent beings with individual personalities, autonomy and an inner life. They are vulnerable to tremendous suffering and psychological trauma," Marino says.

Marino worked on a 2001 study that showed that dolphins can recognize themselves in a mirror - a finding that indicates self-awareness similar to that seen in higher primates and elephants.

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