Dolphin with glasses on to make look intelligent
How intelligent Dolphins are

Are Dolphins Intelligent? Just How Intelligent! Differences Between Them And Us

Dolphins are very intelligent and one of the world’s most intelligent animals. Dolphins showcase many complex things, like showing sorrow or happiness, awareness of themselves, high problem-solving skills, emotional empathy and playfulness. These skills all point to a high level of intelligence.

Over the years, the dolphins’ brains, bodies, sensory systems, and intelligence levels have evolved and adapted to live a varied and rich life underwater.

Even though it is difficult to quantify the intelligence of dolphins in metric terms, it is suggested that dolphins come second to humans when it comes to intelligence based on a brain-to-body ratio.

Even though the lives of dolphins are very different from humans, when it comes to intelligence, dolphins are more like us than we can ever imagine.

Just how intelligent are the dolphins

Animal intelligence level is one of the most disputed topics, but the name of the dolphins comes up in this regard again and again. It is considered that apart from humans, dolphins are the most intelligent animals living on earth. 

It is suggested that dolphins are even more intelligent than other primates living on land. 

If you use brain size as a smartness parameter, dolphins come second to only humans in the brain-to-body size ratio. 

These marine animals also showcase exceptional social and emotional intelligence and have their language. 

They communicate with each other using that specific language. Not only that, it has been observed that dolphins can use different tools to solve complex problems and remember all the details of their pod members for long periods. Like the elephants, they also have a remarkable memory and remember old herd members from many years back. 

Dolphins generally are highly social animals. They care for other members of their society and can learn from one another. These marine animals maintain a complex social structure as they live in pods with several other dolphins. 

Dolphins are also very self-aware animals. They are perhaps the only mammal, other than humans, that can recognise themselves in a mirror.

Large Brain Size

Dolphins come with large brains. Dolphins are only second to humans when it comes to the brain-to-body ratio. 

All the animals with large brains have a couple of things in common. These animals live long lives, showcase complicated behaviour, and produce only a few babies.

Recommended Read: Do dolphin babies drink milk?

Not only that, all these big animals take extraordinary care to ensure their babies learn all the necessary life skills. These animals give their babies the required time to grow up and become sexually mature and independent.

Main Differences Between Dolphin and Human Brains

One of the most significant differences between our brains and dolphins is that a considerable portion of their brain is dedicated to echolocation. 

Unlike humans, dolphins use sound to see. Compared to light, sound travels much better in water. So, it makes sense for dolphins to manipulate sounds to sense their surroundings instead of their eyesight. This extraordinary ability is known as echolocation and is one of the dolphin’s fascinating evolutionary adaptations.


With their extraordinary echolocation ability, the dolphins can determine details about almost everything around them. These animals use this technique to hunt or navigate in murky water where visibility is low. By using their location technique, the dolphins can check the condition of the pregnancies of other dolphins and can even listen to what other animals are saying.

Spindle Neurons

Not only that, the limbic system of a dolphin’s brain that processes emotion is even more complex than that of humans. Dolphins also come with specialised brain cells known as spindle neurons, which help them remember, recognise, reason, perceive, communicate and solve problems. This unique structure also helps these marine animals understand the changing situations faster and adapt.


Dolphins love to play together. Playing is a great way to showcase intelligence. When it comes to playing, dolphins are the best at it. You can watch pods of dolphins tumbling, leaping, backflipping, and spinning together in the ocean. Playing is pure social enjoyment for the dolphins.


Dolphins come with a complex and extensive communication system. This complex communication system enables the dolphins to identify which family member is talking and what they are talking about. 

Even though dolphins in captivity are trained to respond to specific hand signals, dolphins mostly communicate through clickspulses, and whistles in the wild.

Dolphin babies follow a very human-like trajectory of language development. Over time, the baby dolphin slowly learns the language and how you should use them.


The whistling pitch helps the dolphins differentiate from one member to the next. More often than not, dolphins use their signature whistles to announce their presence or let the pod members know about their location. When in distress, the dolphins use their signature whistle loudly to help others identify their position.


One of the most important factors that prove the intelligence level of dolphins is their ability to recognise themselves in a mirror. The mirror selfie recognition test is one of the techniques that was devised for measuring self-awareness among animals.

Using tools

Like crows, primates, and sea otters, dolphins can use various tools to help them accomplish a task. It has been observed that dolphins can use sea sponges as a foraging tool. Perhaps they use these sponges to protect their long snout from sharp objects like sea urchins.

Emotional intelligence

There are several pieces of evidence where people have witnessed dolphins pushing the bodies of their deceased mate around in the water for days after their death. That is simple evidence that dolphins also can feel grief which is a very complex emotion.

Dolphins also have separate personalities. Some dolphins have shy personalities, and there are those with bolder attitudes. For example, the more courageous members of the pods play a significant role in spreading information and maintaining group cohesion.

Social Intelligence

Dolphins live in complex social groups which showcase firm bonds with their pod mates. Dolphin pods can consist of 2 to 15 members. Just like humans, dolphins also have close family members and acquaintances. If the dolphins are herded together in a net, they try to huddle together instead of jumping out on their own, showcasing their compassion. Within the group, the dolphins form long-term cooperative alliances. They also form partnerships and showcase conformity, which reflects the level of their social intelligence.

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Teresa Milne

Teresa is learning zoology and loves to share her knowledge through her articles. She is also a avid binge watcher of wild animal documentary's. Teresa has some pets that she adores two dogs, two cats, and one hamster. She has also studied canine behaviour and canine nutrition.