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The Animal Science Blog is the place for conversation and discussion about scientific and technological topics related to pets, livestock, and other animals. See how cutting-edge advances help - or hinder - species around the world. SavvyExacta is a lifelong animal enthusiast with more than 20 years of experience with horses. Freckles (an English setter) is a frequent topic on the blog. Other CR4 bloggers occasionally add great posts.

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After Humans, Dolphins Have Most Powerful Memories

Posted August 12, 2013 12:00 AM by SavvyExacta

A recent study shows that dolphins can remember each other's whistles after spending years apart. The dolphin's whistle is used not only for communication but also for identification. Each dolphin has a unique whistle that is similar to the uniqueness of the human voice.

The dolphin's memory of sound blows other animals' memory spans out of the water.

Monkeys can remember things for four years and elephants 10; however, neither species can remember things based on sound alone.

It's likely that dolphins' great sound memories have specific purposes:

  • To identify dolphins they approach in a group setting
  • To avoid dolphins that they remember as being aggressive

Another study has shown that dolphins may copy each other's signature whistles from time to time. It's not known why they do this, but copying typically occurs between mothers and calves or pairs of captive male dolphins. The study indicates that the unique whistle serves as a dolphin's "name" to other dolphins.

Species like whales, elephants, and parrots do have relatively long memory spans. It seems like animals that live in groups use memories to manage their social networks (not Facebook - real-life interactions). Some even use their memories and higher thinking abilities to manipulate or trick one another. Dolphins seem to be pretty honest; at least, one of the sources indicated they don't engage in deceptive behavior on purpose!

Allie and Bailey

Two dolphins, Allie and Bailey, lived together at the Dolphin Connection in the Florida Keys. They were eventually sent to separate facilities. Twenty years later Bailey showed recognition after hearing Allie's whistle played over a speaker. Bailey approached the speaker and the dolphin whistled its own signature whistle.

The experiment was repeated with over 40 other dolphins. They heard a total of 1,200 recordings of dolphins they didn't know or ones they had previously known. The dolphins ignored the unknown whistles and approached the speakers and sometimes whistled back when they recognized an old "friend."

Resources:

Dolphins by Name

Dolphins Have Longest Memories in Animal Kingdom

Dolphin Memory May Be Even Better Than Elephants

Long Time, No See: Dolphins Remember Long-Lost Buddies for Decades

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#1

Re: After Humans, Dolphins Have Most Powerful Memories

08/12/2013 12:24 PM

I'm going to disagree with you on this.

Dolphins have big brains and cute faces. Brain mass has nothing to do with intelligence, and I'll not even comment on 'smiles'.

The number of connections within a brain is more important than it's mass. Dolphins have nicely rippled brains which is suggestive of a large surface area, and thus 'more brain power' is often inferred. Not so if the inside of the brain is like a boiled egg. Having a complex social social structure is no indication of brains (compare to , say, ants).

Long memory and being able to identify each other is again a false indicator of intelligence. My computer remembers everything I tell it, but it's yet to take the initiative and do a few household chores for me. If a few more people join this discussion I'll look for some decent research that backs up my assertion.

Dolphins seem to be pretty honest - ?!?!

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#2
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Re: After Humans, Dolphins Have Most Powerful Memories

08/12/2013 2:58 PM

"My computer remembers everything I tell it, but it's yet to take the initiative and do a few household chores for me."

This is a great point, Kris. Dolphins do seem highly trainable, but I'm not sure how much of that is actual intelligence. Perhaps great memories help them to be so trainable.

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#3
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Re: After Humans, Dolphins Have Most Powerful Memories

08/12/2013 5:42 PM

Last I heard brain-to-body mass ratio and encephalization quotient were pretty decent tools for estimating intelligence, especially when comparing vastly different species. Even total brain mass has been used to compare closely-related animals (ie primates).

I might've missed something, but I don't think the post equated memory with intelligence.

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Re: After Humans, Dolphins Have Most Powerful Memories

08/13/2013 4:08 AM

I don't think the post equated memory with intelligence.

You're quite right, Hannes, I've read a bit more than was maybe intended from the original post. Oops . Hopefully it's not too far off topic to explore this a little further as I question the first paragraph you've written. Some of the people held in hioghest regard for 'intelligence' (whatever that may mean) have had brains of very small size.

I'm currently using a computer that is crawling along due to it's trying to do updates after a week or so of neglect. I'll get back to you and Savvy asap with a bit more explanation and a few links to related articles.

Whilst I get this computer sorted, there is a not unrelated topic that may be of interested. National Geographic (yes, not exactly the Oracle of fact) had a recent show on a 'tame' crocodile. I suspect that being shot in the eye may have done similar to a lobotomy, though NG didn't exactly cover that aspect very much. First link that came to hand. The original documentary is worth a watch.

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#11
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Re: After Humans, Dolphins Have Most Powerful Memories

08/14/2013 6:19 PM

I'm still chewing the fat on this topic. There's a considerable difference in brain mass between males and females - exactly what that mean for memory and intelligence I'd fear to tred. Not least because the ature of 'intelligence' is wide open to debate.

There are examples of people with what might be regarded as good intelligence/memory who's brain mass is far lower than average. Sharon Parker is a Nurse who was initially thought to have no brain (!). Turns out she had plenty of brain, but it had been squished about inside the cranium. There was an 18C musician who was found to have a pretty tint brain - painfully ironic because music is held by many to increase memory skills, and I can't recall who it was. D'oh.

Encephalization seems to be a closer measure, but it doesn't look to be any sort of golden rule for comparison.

Here's a link, though I've not checked that all the data used is correct.

As far as I know, it's not known for certain exactly how memory works. Even if it was, I'd question just how useful that was. It might be that areas of the brain that store memory compromise the volume available for process information in an intelligent way. Whatever the case may be, memory and intelligence seem to me to be intertwined.

Just to throw a spanner at dolphins......

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#12
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Re: After Humans, Dolphins Have Most Powerful Memories

08/15/2013 12:39 PM

I agree with you that it's not too useful when comparing individuals between species.

Pretty much everything I know about intelligence I culled from Sagan's The Dragons of Eden (he has a very similar graph to the one on the link you've provided). I've just now figured out that the triune brain theory that the book vehemently promotes is no longer supported by much of the scientific community. Oops.

Your last point is the big one, I think: most of what we know about intelligence, memory, emotions, etc. is speculation.

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#13
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Re: After Humans, Dolphins Have Most Powerful Memories

08/15/2013 6:12 PM

No need for an 'oops'. I'd be much surprised if I didn't look back in a few years time and revise my views.

It's a total aside, but of recent years I don't read as many books as I used to. The internet is very 'easy', whereas with a good old book I used to find myself reading and considering the subject matter a lot more. Somewhat to my shame there are a great many good authors who I've never read first hand ().

There isn't any 'right' or 'wrong' in this whole thread, but it has value is stimulating thought and discussion. It may be that we can never fully understand our own minds - the prospect is a little bit scarey. If nothing else, it would take away from the experience of simply 'being'.

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#5

Re: After Humans, Dolphins Have Most Powerful Memories

08/13/2013 5:02 AM

Have they pitted elephants and dolphins against each other? Or chimps?

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Re: After Humans, Dolphins Have Most Powerful Memories

08/13/2013 5:41 AM

That needs to be some sort of series where this is explored. I'm not sure which will be more fun - elephants swing thru trees, or chimps in mudpools. Either way, we could sell this idea to C4 in Blighty. I could be persuaded to set up a webcam for new neighbours - first impression is that they will be a hit TV series . Nobody will know the diffference.

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#7
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Re: After Humans, Dolphins Have Most Powerful Memories

08/13/2013 10:50 AM

I wonder how much of this brain power subject is due to religion and ego- The early priests stated that animals had no intelligence or reasoning power because they could not get the Church message to them- or control them- I think, maybe wrongly, that mankind has tended to ignore the possibility of communicating with animals on a language level because once we do so we no longer could abuse, eat or enslave them. There is no doubt that current observasions have shown some reasoning power in Birds and animals- are we afraid of learning more- purely a rheotoric question

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#14
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Re: After Humans, Dolphins Have Most Powerful Memories

08/16/2013 4:28 PM

I share your curiosity about how much influence things like religion and ego have on this subject. My guess is that the influence continues to be significant.

On the other hand, I disagree with your conclisions about the things that might result from the ability to communicate through language. .

Being able to speak the same language has never been a safeguard against enslavement, abuse, on even being eaten.

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Re: After Humans, Dolphins Have Most Powerful Memories

08/16/2013 4:39 PM

Thank you- as far as your position re enslavement etc., I could not agree more, based both on historical records and current behaviour in some areas- however I do feel that if this communication did develop there would be a large outcry from many on the position I put forward- but we have a long way to go

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#8

Re: After Humans, Dolphins Have Most Powerful Memories

08/13/2013 1:30 PM

Rush to judgment...

Part I and Part II (you have to watch both) of a segment from the PBS show, Urban Elephant, puts these 2 elephants (Shirley and Jenny) "recognition" of one another after almost 25 years of separation, on par with Allie and Bailey. Allie and Bailey were apart 20 years.

Intelligence? How does one really measure that? We still struggle with that in humans. (Definers have the upper hand in that exercise. The rest of us then are submitted to that definition and judged accordingly.)

A more interesting phenomena/question is the ability to "bond." The most common experience of bonding with an animal, for humans, is with their pets -- dogs and cats. And what is this bonding? For humans it is no less than love. Why does one grieve at the loss of one of these "lesser" companions? One can readily see this bond in Solomon, the caretaker of Shirley for so long. In dogs it is easier to see a 2-way bonding between both dog and human. That doesn't mean there is less bonding between other animals and humans. Or between animals. The "emotions," seemingly expressed by Shirley upon seeing Jenny again are recognizable to us as similar to any one of us being reunited with someone we have a strong bond with, from our past, after a long separation. I have yet to bond with my computers. They come and go without so much as a sniffle. Have you ever observed one animal, seemingly, grieving at the loss of another? I have.

We modern, scientific, humans seem convinced that we need to quantify everything. We want some hard proof for statements and viewpoints. Personally, I don't care who has the longest memory in the animal kingdom. Do animals have emotions? (How does one prove that? How do you prove YOU love someone? Diamonds? ) Any dog owner would say, yes, at least to some extent. Are emotions the outcome of intelligence, or do they accompany intelligence? Again, we feel a need to quantify and analyze. Why? The need/desire to predict? That is a large driving force behind the scientific quest. That is, in fact, a testing stone for how "true" any hypothesis is. But does it truly enrich our lives?

I wonder what each of us would say is the most important experience we have had in our life? Would it be a relationship (or bond?) with another human or an animal? Or would it be some intellectual epiphany in solving some mental question or problem? On closer examination, even a complex, highly intellectual, epiphany mainly has significance if it can be "shared." It leads to bonding. I would submit the bond then becomes much more important than the epiphany. Then one's memory is not so much of the epiphany, as the bond it resulted in -- the first person to hear our excited recounting of it and who responded with an equal emotion. If a "bond" would top any person's list, what about bonding between Allie and Bailey, or Shirley and Jenny?

Bonding between higher animals can lead to a curious characteristic -- sacrifice. And, again, we feel the need to quantify and analyze, proposing hypotheses to explain our behavior. In animals we characterize sacrifice under the heading "survival of the species." Human sacrifice isn't so easily explained. Many sacrifices have nothing to do with survival of our species. Under the influence of greed, for instance, some would sacrifice even the "bonds," that many others hold so dear, for materials that are inert. Most of us are appalled at such behavior and consider it quite shallow.

Poetry and music express some need in us that is beyond numbers and data. I think it is the mystery of love. Do we really think we can or want to reduce it to chemical processes, numbers and data? Why do we instinctively want to move in synchronous rhythm with music? Is it because all life is vibratory in essence?

I appreciate the line from the song, The Rose: "Some say love, it is a hunger, an endless aching need." Some mystics would say it is the gateway for finding answers to life's deepest questions. To me, a much more interesting and important subject than memory. But, to each his own.

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#9
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Re: After Humans, Dolphins Have Most Powerful Memories

08/13/2013 2:16 PM

Poetry and music express some need in us that is beyond numbers and data. I think it is the mystery of love. Do we really think we can or want to reduce it to chemical processes, numbers and data? Why do we instinctively want to move in synchronous rhythm with music? Is it because all life is vibratory in essence?

It's a useful exercise to try to analyze and quantify all this stuff, whether emotions or intelligence. Knowing the endocrine and neurological responses to a "loved one" does not diminish the value of the experience. It enhances it.

Back on topic, I suggest the possibility that dolphins are communicating on a level we have yet to recognize, and their physical adaptations mask a potentially high intelligence. I could be wrong, it's just a possibility. But the behavior of animals in the wild can be "scary smart" sometimes.

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Re: After Humans, Dolphins Have Most Powerful Memories

08/13/2013 7:50 PM

That is why I ended with, "To each his own." If you find quantification of neurological responses enhances your relationships, who am I to disagree with your feeling? It just doesn't do that for me.

I think I understand what you mean. (Correct me if I'm off base.) Knowing neurological responses of a loved one may help in bringing that person pleasure, which then pleases us. But most of us find this out empirically in our relationships, via language and body communication. Our loved one's responses to what we do and don't, instructs us quite readily; bringing one flowers, for instance. (And if pleasure is interpreted narrowly, some have gotten help from the research of Kinsey. But sex is such a small part of life and pleasure -- time-wise, at least.)

I agree with your suggestion about dolphins. Without a common language we are very limited in what we can discern of their experience. We can make a relative assessment of intelligence according to our definition. It just may have little to do with their intelligence.

All psychological research still falls under the umbrella of consciousness. Studying that cuts to the chase, I would say.

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Re: After Humans, Dolphins Have Most Powerful Memories

08/16/2013 11:07 PM

I was fortunate enough to have a lot of interaction with dolphins when i was growing up. I swam with pods of wild dolphins more timea than i have counted. I also worked most of every day with dolphins and other marine on one of my first jobs.

The reason I'm bringing this is the something interesting happens the first time you enter the water with a dolphin. If you are new to the dolphin, when you get in the water, if you make sure to remain mindful of what is going on despite the excitment, you will feel vibrations in your body, most noticably in your chest amd neck, and if your face is submerged, in your sinus. It is not jard to notice for maybe 5 to 10 seconds when you first get in. With wild dolphins there are sometimes subsequent short duration 'inspections'....i suspect from other dolphins who may have joined the crowd to laugh at the goofy-swimming land mammal.

On subsequent visits to the same dolphin(s) in captivity, the 'inspection' is not as noticable and usually much more brief.

My conjecture is that dolphins are 'getting to know you' in ways that aren't available to humans. I suspect they can see if you are tense of relaxed, frightened/aggressive or playful/curious or bored/apathetic; before you even approach to interact. I suspect that having a highly informative 3D view in real time of a mammal takes a lot of the guesswork out of understanding intentions.

......And that is where it ties into this subject. So much of human language is used geasing the social wheels. Like it or not, deception is a cornerstone of the entire process. Call them 'white lies', 'social niceities' or 'not beong mean'. There are also intricate rules to be followed if your deception is to have credibility....a big one of these systems of rules is called 'grammar'.

But consider for a moment if it was nearly impossible to hide your intentions. Image of how little use the majority of most types of language would be if people could see right into you.

It might be that with that level of transparency (if it actually it that telling) that our type of language may never have developed...perhaps something else would have developed instead. Maybe that alternate thing would be very difficult for us to even notice, given our evolutional investment in our well developed system.

I am surprised sometimes by the lengths we will go to deny intellegence of anything around while still hoping to encounter intellegent life from another planet. We have placed such constraints on what intellegence, I have doubts we recognize it when we do encounter it.

If I were to suggest that stars like our sun might be conscious on timescales either far more rapod of far slower than our own, I suspect most would respond with ridicule as to the absolute impossibility of such a thing. Billions of years with massive energy and so many possible arrangements and none of them ever possibly sustainable or possibly influencing creation of similar arrangements? Seems like it would be more improbable that a form of intellegent life hadn't formed than had....

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Re: After Humans, Dolphins Have Most Powerful Memories

08/18/2013 11:15 AM

Some background on dolphins.

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