7 Ways a Dolphin Asking for Help Shows How Smart They Really Are – Watch

August 27, 2015 Laura Bridgeman

7 Ways a Dolphin Asking for Help Shows How Smart They Really Are – Watch

A popular video of a dolphin asking for help surfaced in 2013 (watch video below). It quickly became a viral sensation. The heartwarming display of interspecies interaction provides more than just the warm fuzzies. It presents solid evidence of nonhuman personhood characteristics in dolphins.

Below is a list of seven generally accepted characteristics that someone must have in order to be considered a ‘person’. Let’s see how this dolphin measures up.

1. A PERSON IS ALIVE. This one is pretty obvious.

2. A PERSON FEELS POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE SENSATIONS. There can be little doubt the dolphin recognized the fish hook buried in its fin as a negative sensation it wanted to stop.

3. A PERSON HAS EMOTIONS. Many of us fear getting vaccinations or a visit to the dentist. But we keep our emotions in check because we understand that these procedures produce a long-term benefit.

The dolphin likely tolerated the poking and prodding of its painful wound in a similar manner and may have also had to overcome a fear of approaching unknown humans. If the dolphin did not understand that behaving in a calm, collected way would be of ultimate benefit, she would not have tolerated the situation as she did. This suggests not only the presence of emotions, but an impressive mastery over them.

4. A PERSON RECOGNIZES OTHER PERSONS. The dolphin recognized the divers as being other self-aware persons with similar characteristics. She would not be able to recognize that humans are aware, in control of their actions, intelligent and so on if she did not possess those same qualities. She would not have approached the humans or assumed that they would understand what she wanted from them. She would not have known to expect the kind of treatment she received.

Dolphins clearly have expectations around the way they are treated. They appear to live by the Golden Rule of ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. Why else would they rescue imperiled humans, time and again? Because, as we all know, helping a person in need the decent thing to do.

5. A PERSON MAKES DECISIONS. The dolphin decided to go directly to the humans for help. She could have approached the nearby manta rays, but chose not to.

6. A PERSON HAS A VARIETY OF SOPHISTICATED COGNITIVE ABILITIES. It seems obvious enough why the dolphin did not approach the rays for help, whose wing-like flaps are rather useless for matters of disentanglement. The thought process behind this decision reveals two intriguing possibilities that indicate sophisticated cognition.

A dolphin’s sonar gives them incredibly detailed images of the inner workings of bodies. It’s possible that the dolphin saw the human’s opposable thumbs and knew they were the tools for the job.

It could also be that the dolphin knew which species was responsible for the fishing line – who made it and put it in the ocean – and thus who to ask for help. This begs the question: how much do dolphins actually know about us? What do they, and other marine species, think of us?

7. A PERSON IS AWARE. Everything this dolphin does gives the appearance of calculation and intention. If she was not aware, she would have just swam on by, never seeking a way to remove the hook or fishing line. Add to this the fact that dolphins can recognize themselves in the mirror, and we can pretty much be guaranteed that this dolphin is aware.

Of course, naysayers can dismiss all of this by arguing that there is no proof. For many scientists, what constitutes official ‘proof’ would be the replication of these exact behaviors in human-controlled conditions. This would not only be difficult, but cruel.

Maybe the dolphin was acting only ‘as though’ she was asking for help. Perhaps it was all just a big series of coincidences. But attempting to prove that will be absolutely impossible.

We like to concede that dolphins are among the ‘smartest animals’. This prevents any real challenge to our perceived human exceptionalism. But how, pray tell, does one explain this?

This humble puffer is clearly battling the desire to puff up, as this species does when threatened or is in pain (for example, when someone squeezes it’s eyeball into it’s head!). But he knows that doing so would hurt the diver and halt the process of salvation. All of this reasoning is quite remarkable for a being with such a purportedly tiny brain. His behavior is also peculiar given that fish allegedly have no pain-receptive nerves in their mouths, as fishermen often claim.

Anecdotes like these fundamentally challenge what we thought we knew about dolphins and other-than-human animals. It is clear that dolphins meet the criteria to be considered nonhuman persons. There is strong evidence that the puffer does as well. These anecdotes also show that, sometimes, we all need a little help from our friends. And that help comes from many different persons – regardless of the species.

Check out Manta Rays Hawaii, the tour company who had the experience with the dolphin.