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The Intelligent Whale

How intelligent are whales?

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photo credit Bob Talbot

Captain Paul Watson has stated many times that he believes that whales are much more intelligent than human beings. What evidence is there for this?

The Japanese have only one argument to support their position that whales are not intelligent creatures. They look at the brain-body ratio (i.e., the size of the brain compared to body mass). This is the only area where humans score better. The human brain comprises about 2% of the human body mass, whereas the sperm whale's brain comprises only 0.02% of its body mass. However, a very large proportion of a whale's body mass is blubber, which requires no brain power, and this distorts the ratio somewhat. Nevertheless, it is clear that brain size is not a decisive criterion. Hummingbirds have an even higher brain-to-body ratio than humans. Dinosaurs were almost as big as whales with brains the size of walnuts.

It is brain size that makes the difference, and the sperm whale brain is the largest brain to have ever evolved on the planet. It is about 9,000 cubic centimeters and weighs 7.8 kilos or 17 lbs 3 oz. The orca brain is about 5 kilos.

By comparison the human brain is 1300 grams and is about 1300 cubic centimeters.

All mammals from mice to men have three lobes to the brain whereas cetaceans have a fourth lobe. The convolutions on the neo-cortex area of the brain are more pronounced on cetacean brains than on humans.

So overall, the brain of a sperm whale and orca are larger, and more complex than human brains.

However, they don't have technology - and it is technology that humanity uses as the primary indicator of intelligence. We have essentially dismissed non-manipulative intelligences from our definition of intelligence.

A few years ago, Captain Watson had the following conversation with Georg Blitchfield, the leader of the High North Alliance, a pro-whaling lobbying group.

Blitchfield: "But Watson, you say that whales are more intelligent than people. How can you say such a stupid thing? This is stupid, this is crazy this is....."

Captain Watson: "Georg, I happen to measure intelligence by the ability to live in harmony with the natural world. By this criteria, whales are far more intelligent than we are."

Blitchfield: "That is a stupid criteria. By that stupid criteria, you could say cockroaches are smarter than people."

Captain Watson: "Georg, you are beginning to understand what I'm talking about."

Captain Watson was not only saying that intelligence is relative, but that intelligence cannot be placed into categories defined by humans.

Whales are highly social beings and they have a complex form of communication with each other which can only be defined as language. We simply do not understand what those large brains have evolved for, but indeed large brains they have, and large brains suggest that there is a reason and a use for this development.