Stupidity is relative, to dolphins

1 minute read

In a case of neuroscience resembling the Onion, we have a Reuters article about how stupid dolphins are. It ends with this quote:

Manger also points to the tuna industry, which under consumer pressure has gone to great lengths to prevent dolphins from being caught and killed by accident in nets. "If they were really intelligent they would just jump over the net because it doesn't come out of the water," he said.

Compare to this passage from the Onion:

Although dolphins have long been celebrated for their high intelligence and for appearing to have a complex language, a team of researchers at the University of Florida reported Monday that these traits are markedly less evident on dry land.
"The dolphins were incapable of recognizing and repeating simple gestures," said study co-author Dr. Scott Lindell. "Their non-verbal communications were limited to a rapid constriction and expansion of the blowhole, various incomprehensible fin motions, and heavy tremors while they lay prone on the lab table."

There's actually some serious content to the Reuters article, based on the work of neuroethologist Paul Manger:

Brains, he says, are made of neurons and glia. The latter create the environment for the neurons to work properly and producing heat is one of glia's functions.
"Dolphins have a super-abundance of glia and very few neurons ... The dolphin's brain is not made for information processing it is designed to counter the thermal challenges of being a mammal in water," Manger said.

But then, I thought to myself, "Gee, didn't Einstein's brain have an unusually high number of glia?" Yes, indeed, although only in one area of the cortex, which has been argued to be a response to unusually high neuronal metabolic demands.

High neuronal metabolic demands. Hmm... Well, guess if their large brains were really only useful for their aquatic lives, there wouldn't be any small-brained dolphins, right? Which works perfectly except for river dolphins...



Diamond MC, Scheibel AB, Murphy GM Jr, Harvey T. 1985. On the brain of a scientist: Albert Einstein. Exp Neurol 88:198-204. PubMed