Dolphins: Recognizing Themselves

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ambience: dolphin underwater vocalizations

About thirty years ago a groundbreaking study proved that chimpanzees have the ability to recognize themselves in a mirror – a behavior which researchers say demonstrates the high level of intelligence of these fellow primates. Recently, a scientist has tried to see if dolphins were also capable of self-recognition. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Diana Reis is a senior research scientist with the Wildlife Conservation Society at the NY Aquarium. In the background we’re listening to the underwater sounds of dolphins.

“And what we did was we first just looked at their normal behavior under different conditions. Then we pretended to mark them with water filled magic markers. And that didn’t effect any change in their behavior. They were used to being handled so this was no big difference. Then we actually started marking them. And we used a nontoxic, temporary black marker, and we found that upon being marked, when we released them from station, the animal that was marked went directly to the best mirror and positioned its body in such a way to expose that marked portion of the body. And we got that very consistent response – when the animals were marked. It’s not so much that dolphins are just recognizing themselves in a mirror, it’s the fact that these animals can interpret information in such a way that they come to the right conclusion. When we try to grapple with the issue of intelligence, it’s a very slippery term. And this clearly is a nice comparative measure of intelligence. These animals have taken that information and they’ve done something appropriate with it – they’ve drawn the proper conclusion. It’s a cognitive leap.”

We’ll hear more about dolphins in future programs.

Pulse of the Planet is presented by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.

music

Dolphins: Recognizing Themselves

Self-recognition is considered a sign of higher intelligence in animals. Can dolphins recognize themselves in a mirror?
Air Date:10/17/2001
Scientist:
Transcript:


music
ambience: dolphin underwater vocalizations

About thirty years ago a groundbreaking study proved that chimpanzees have the ability to recognize themselves in a mirror - a behavior which researchers say demonstrates the high level of intelligence of these fellow primates. Recently, a scientist has tried to see if dolphins were also capable of self-recognition. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Diana Reis is a senior research scientist with the Wildlife Conservation Society at the NY Aquarium. In the background we're listening to the underwater sounds of dolphins.

“And what we did was we first just looked at their normal behavior under different conditions. Then we pretended to mark them with water filled magic markers. And that didn’t effect any change in their behavior. They were used to being handled so this was no big difference. Then we actually started marking them. And we used a nontoxic, temporary black marker, and we found that upon being marked, when we released them from station, the animal that was marked went directly to the best mirror and positioned its body in such a way to expose that marked portion of the body. And we got that very consistent response - when the animals were marked. It’s not so much that dolphins are just recognizing themselves in a mirror, it’s the fact that these animals can interpret information in such a way that they come to the right conclusion. When we try to grapple with the issue of intelligence, it’s a very slippery term. And this clearly is a nice comparative measure of intelligence. These animals have taken that information and they’ve done something appropriate with it - they’ve drawn the proper conclusion. It’s a cognitive leap.”

We'll hear more about dolphins in future programs.

Pulse of the Planet is presented by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.

music