While watching The Cove, I kept wondering why people have such strong feelings for dolphins. They are obviously very intelligent – but in a way that appears unlike other animals. Similar to humans, dolphins seem to have complex relationships, communication and problem solving skills. However, I think our inclination towards them could in part be due to their self-awareness.
To be self-aware is to be conscious of “oneself, including one’s traits, feelings, and behaviors”. This is often measured by the ability to pass the mirror test. A mirror test is conducted by putting two spots of dye on an animal – one where they could see it in a mirror, and one where they cannot. If they react to the sight of it in a mirror – either by touching or trying to view it, it can be concluded that they are self-aware and thus pass the test. Dolphins, orcas, elephants, all great apes and magpies can pass the test. Humans are able to pass the test too, obviously, but only after they are about 18 months of age. For animals that rely primarily on other senses besides sight – like dogs and pigs – the test can be problematic. And since scientists have largely focused on primates with the mirror test, it is hard to say what other species have this sort of intelligence. Though, sometimes my basset hound barks at her reflection in glass doors, seemingly thinking it’s another animal, so I’m doubtful that dogs are truly self-aware.
When it said in The Cove that there we should be trying to learn from dolphins instead of teaching them tricks, I think they could be right. Though the mirror test isn’t foolproof, and there is a debate of to what extent other species are aware of themselves, it alludes to a different kind of intellect and maybe animals could teach us a thing or two?