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Why dolphins and whales are even cleverer than we thought.

Filed Under: News, Science

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Towards the end of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, the dolphins abandon Earth for another dimension with the farewell message: “So long, and thanks for all the fish.”

While the intelligence of many whale and dolphin species has been attested for decades, a comprehensive study suggests that collectively they may be even brighter than we thought. So perhaps the scenario imagined by Douglas Adams is not as fantastic as it sounds.

Some of the animals turn out to be so good at co-opting humans and other species that one has to wonder what else they are plotting. Whales and dolphins appear to have followed an evolutionary course that is remarkably similar to humans’, with stable, close-knit tribes giving rise to their own languages and cultures and fostering ever bigger and more sophisticated brains.

Practically the only thing that held them back was their failure to develop opposable thumbs, according to Susanne Shultz, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Manchester and one of the paper’s lead authors.

In a review of the social skills of 90 kinds of cetacean, Dr Shultz and her colleagues found that the most advanced species pass down tool use and hunting techniques, such as stunning fish with the flukes of their tails or bamboozling them with plumes of mud, from one generation to the next.

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