There is an understanding among marine experts that whales are incredibly intelligent. It just seems fact! Not only is the brain of the sperm whale the largest in the animal kingdom and 5 times heavier than that of a human, it has been observed time after time that whales and dolphins are sentient; when a mother humpback loses her calf she will remain in the same location for days with her mourning song. Similar to elephants, whales and dolphins are known to be incredibly intelligent. But how intelligent?
Certain species of whales are known to live for over 100 years, while the bowhead whale has been estimated to reach 200 years. During this vast amount of time whales return to the exact same locations year after year to feed and calf, this seems incredibly intelligent. Older sperm whales that were hunted by whalers have learned to be un-trusting of whale watching boats, yet over decades have become more and more curious when understanding that they posed no threat.
Whales have incredible instinct, and furthermore whales can learn to do all kinds of amazing things. Humpback whales learn how to blow bubbles as part of a feeding practice, they teach their calf’s to do the same. Dolphins teach their babies different sounds. It’s a kind of language the young dolphin will know for life. Certain dolphin species even learn to carry sea sponges on their beak, a behaviour taught to protect their beaks from coral while foraging in the sand.
Dolphins have been studied far easier than whales due to the amount of dolphin individuals in captivity (unfortunately). Even the worlds Navy’s have used dolphins to conduct human missions. They retrieve lost equipment at sea and identify intruders in classified waters; surely humans wouldn’t trust cetaceans to conduct such important missions if they were perceived as incredibly intelligent.
Usually people talk about intelligence as the ability to learn something and apply what they learn, yet unfortunately, there is not a specific IQ test that can be taken by whales…obviously!
Scientists have discovered that cetaceans have complex spindle neurons that humans, elephants, and apes also share. Scientists have found correlations between the spindle neurons and emotional intelligence. They can show complex signs of empathy, grief, joy, and playfulness. All of these learned behaviours should alter the way humans understand intelligence.
We need to reconsider intelligence, especially in relation to other species. If we cast aside the traditional comprehension of what is clever we might see that no creature can think or communicate just like a human, but that does not mean that other species cannot match our intellect! In ways, cetaceans are more complex than humans, for example their forms of communication are so great that dolphins might be able to send a sound image of a fish to another dolphin, they can communicate in forms we cannot imagine. Now isn’t that a thought!