For three years, scientists recorded the reactions of dolphins to a one-way mirror they placed on an aquarium wall. The result? They found that the creatures can recognise themselves – a cognitive ability found in very few species like elephants, chimpanzees, and of course, us.
Not only that, dolphins are able to do it at only seven months old. FYI, our babies don’t exhibit this ability until at least 12 months old.
During the experiments, the dolphins showed a great degree of self-awareness. For instance, they opened their mouths to wiggle their tongue, stared into their own eyes, and used the mirror to spot marks researchers drew on their underside.
The so-called ‘mark test’ is of particular importance since children are able to spot marks on themselves between 18 and 24 months of age. Dolphins did it at 24 months, which was the earliest age the scientists were allowed to draw on young animals.
Like all mammals, common bottlenose dolphins reproduce through internal fertilization, and females give birth to live young. Juveniles are able to swim from the moment they are born, but they are totally dependent on nursing their mothers’ milk for nearly two years. . . 📸: Shutterstock #ocean #dolphin #dolphins #cute #babies
Although it’s not unanimously agreed, mirror self-recognition is often taken as a measure of intelligence. Children start showing signs of self-recognition at about 12 months, while chimps do it at two years old.
Dolphins, on the other hand, can do it as early as seven months old. They quite literally blow us primates out of the water.
The study was performed by Hunter College psychologist Diana Reiss and graduate student Rachel Morrison, who studied two young dolphins, Bayley and Foster, over three years at the National Aquarium in Baltimore.
Bayley, the female, started showing self-directed behavior like twirling and showing off her body in unusual poses at the mirror only at seven months. Foster, though, was much slower at exhibiting the same traits. He did it when he was 16 months old
This study gives us a new look at the development of their brains and how their process compares to our own. Oh, and in case you were wondering, Foster visited the mirror more than Bayley.
“He clearly was interested in viewing himself,” Dr. Reiss said to The New York Times.