Why Dolphins Are the Second-Smartest Creatures on the Planet

Comparing intelligence across species is probably not productive

Dolphin Swimming at Sri Lanka South Sea'sUdaynga Lakmal/Shutterstock

Scientists don't really rank animal intelligence, Bruck says: "Rather, we look for how animals perform on certain tasks and relate those results back to why they may have evolved those skills." For example, chimpanzees have remarkable short-term memories and can beat humans in testing situations. "Being good at thinking and remembering things quickly makes chimps more likely to survive," Bruck says. Likewise, pigeons are much better than humans at mastering tasks of spatial rotation, because it's a skill they need to navigate in flight.

But the types of intelligence that impress us humans most are those we can directly relate to. "Dolphins, elephants, some apes, hyenas, crows, ravens, and parrots all have an intelligence we can easily identify with," Bruck says. "That's why we think they are smart. We see ourselves in them. They actually share our social system, where social groups are fluid and brain-power is needed to keep track of social partners and complex relationships." Dolphins also do one not-so-great "human" thing. Read on to find out what that is along with these facts that prove these 11 animals are smarter than you think.

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