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Louis Parks

Dolphins are some of the most remarkable animals on the planet, and pioneering research into their communication patterns just might enable us to understand this complex creature.

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With years of experience of training dolphins to jump, dive and twist on command, we like to think that we’ve gained a solid understanding of the animal, but in reality, while we know that they’re intelligent, we don’t know how intelligent they are. Before the rise of the human, dolphins were probably the animal with the biggest brains on the planet. Pound for pound their brains are certainly among the largest in the animal kingdom, for example, their brain are larger than those of chimpanzees.

While their brains are certainly large, they’re also very different from ours. They don’t have large frontal lobes, so their decision making skills aren’t particularly impressive, but, they are exceptional problem solvers. Also, they seem to be able to plan for the future, an important ability in a social animal. Intelligent, almost alien, dolphins are creatures that, for all intents and purposes, might as well come from a different planet.

These wonderfully expressive creatures appear to have a large vocabulary and their brains are geared toward social interaction. We’ve recently discovered that dolphins have unique names that they create for themselves when calves and they have a distinctive, signature whistle to communicate with their family groups. We know that they talk a lot, they constantly vocalize, they whistle, they click, they chirp, they discipline their young, they chase away sharks. But, we don’t understand more than a few “words”.

This social mindset has been under study and, remarkably, two dolphins in the early 2000’s were able to learn an entirely new language, one presented to them by their trainers. The gestural language meant that the two animals could communicate not only with their human observers, but also between themselves. Adaptive, alien and expressive, the dolphin’s natural communicative talent sets it apart from every other animal.

These big-brained creatures clearly have a flair for communication and a love of “talking”. It remains to be seen what more we can discover, but it’s clear that this remarkable mammal is perhaps the most intriguing social animal on the planet. Its ability to learn, partake in social interactions, form groups and engage in cross species communication points to a neural make-up that is leaps and bounds ahead of anything else we’ve ever encountered. We’re looking at the stars for our close encounter, perhaps we’re already having it.