Dolphins are famously intelligent and gregarious creatures, which helps explain why humans are so fascinated by them. And now, new research suggests that the bottlenose dolphin’s genetic makeup is actually much more human-like than scientists once thought. The findings are part of a growing canon of evidence bolstering the idea that the marine mammals are the second smartest of Earth’s inhabitants. Here, seven recent revelations about dolphins:
1. Genetically, they’re a lot like humans
Dolphins are at least as smart as apes, and can do many of the things apes can do, such as “mirror self-recognition, communication, mimicry, and cultural transmission,” researcher Michael McGowen tells Discovery News. In fact, new research shows that dolphins’ relatively large noggins can be explained by an evolutionary history that’s remarkably similar to our own. After mapping 10,000 of the mammal’s genes, McGowen and his colleagues discovered that dolphin minds evolved to allow for complex cognition just like humans’ brains, as evidenced by a high metabolic rate that allows dolphin bodies to power large, energy-demanding brains.
2. They’re gangsters
Dolphins are the gangsters of the sea, and have been observed patrolling small expanses of oceans in hierarchical pods. Each little swimming army comes with small subgroups assigned different tasks, such as protecting the group’s females, recruiting other members to improve their ranks, or acting as peaceful liaisons to go out and communicate with rival pods. Sounds a lot like “the Mafia,” says Virginia Morell at Wired.
3. They can sniff out bombs
Dolphins are the Navy’s secret weapon for clearing underwater mines. They’re employed in conflict areas like the Middle East’s Strait of Hormuz, a key passageway for the world’s oil tankers that’s often dotted with bombs, thanks to mounting U.S.-Iran tensions. The military trains dolphins much in the way it trains bomb-sniffing dogs, teaching them how to spot hard-to-detect explosives and then mark them for the Navy’s divers to disarm. There is, however, one downside to such a technique: The enemy can’t tell a military dolphin from a wild one, so Iranian soldiers could indiscriminately attack all dolphins they see.
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