Whales and Dolphins Have Human-Like Social Behaviors

Category: Science/Environment


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. indicative / ɪnˈdɪk ə tɪv / (adj) – suggesting an idea

    A large brain is believed to be indicative of high intelligence.

  2. collectively / kəˈlɛk tɪv li / (adv) – related to things done as a group

    My friends and I collectively decided not to push through with the trip.

  3. devise / dɪˈvaɪz / (v) – to create or develop

    Humans devised the alphabet as a writing system.

  4. solitude / ˈsɒl ɪˌtud / (n) – the state of doing things alone

    I enjoy solitude because I always need time for myself.

  5. opposable / əˈpoʊ zə bəl / (adj) – can be placed on the opposite side of something

    The opposable thumbs of humans allow them to be able to grip tools and objects.


Read the text below.

Dolphins and whales socialize like humans, research has found.

Researchers from Manchester University examined 90 species of cetaceans / sɪˈteɪ ʃəns / such as whales and dolphins to determine if there is a correlation between their brain sizes and their rather advanced social traits. They found that a bigger brain size is an indicator of human-like traits.

This finding is indicative of the “cultural brain hypothesis”, which suggests that the development of intelligence is a way of adapting to a complex social environment.

Records gathered by the researchers showed that dolphins are capable of socializing by playing with whales. Dolphins also use distinct whistles to refer to other dolphins that are not around, which can be an indication of gossiping.

According to lead researcher Dr. Susanne Shultz, these pieces of evidence suggest that cetaceans perform activities collectively, including devising dialects and coordinating with each other. The difficulty of the social tasks expected from them may have led to the increase in their brain size and intelligence levels.

In relation to this, the researchers also mentioned that animals behaving in solitude generally have smaller brains.

Nevertheless, Dr. Shultz believes that even if these animals share the same traits as humans, they are still incapable of imitating the advancements experienced by humans because they did not develop an opposable thumb, which allows humans to grip objects and perform manual labor. This characteristic is believed to be a contributing factor to human civilization.

Despite the absence of opposable thumbs, dolphins can still perform certain activities that are somewhat like manual labor. For instance, in Brazil, fishermen and dolphins work together in catching fish. The dolphins chase fish to the shore and send a signal like a dive or tail slap to communicate with the fishermen.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

• Do you agree with the “cultural brain hypothesis”? Why or why not?
• How do you think this study can help in the efforts to save dolphins and whales?

Discussion B

• What other animals work side by side with humans? Discuss.
• Aside from social abilities, what other human skills can possibly be adopted by animals? Explain.