Are You Smarter Than A Cetacean?

Before we delve into the meat of this issue, here are a couple of terms to familiarize yourself with.

Cetacean: the term “Cetacean” refers to the order of marine mammals ranging from the 200-ton blue whale, to the comparatively tiny 130-pound harbor porpoise, and everything in-between. Cetacea can be divided into two categories: toothed whales, whose best known members include dolphins, porpoises, narwhals, and orcas, and baleen whales like the humpback whale, right whale, and grey whale.

Cetacean Intelligence Chart

It doesn’t matter that you can’t read the species names. Just know that there are A LOT of different kinds of cetacea.
Frontiers Of Zoology

Smarter: words like “intelligent” and “smart” are inherently loaded terms. They’re typically used to refer to human developments and achievements, and trying to measure another creature’s abilities against a human barometer of intelligence is as futile as it is reductive. Cetacea don’t take IQ tests, but they do recognize themselves, other whales, and individual humans. A dolphin has obviously never graduated from college or held political office, but some of the more social species have highly developed languages which make English seem simple.

Cetacean Intelligence Beluga Whales

Beluga whales are small, playful, toothed whales.
Adventure Caravans

Why Should You Care If You’re Smarter Than A Cetacean?

There’s currently a debate about whether whales and dolphins should hold a status called non-human personhood. If this legislation were to pass it would give cetaceans individual rights and “moral standing,” and thus becoming “ethically indefensible to kill, injure, or keep these beings captive for human purposes.” They wouldn’t be able to vote, so don’t worry, but it would force governments to protect whales and dolphins from the slaughter and abuse they so regularly face in the wild and captivity.

Herein lies the problem–how do we measure the intelligence of creatures we can’t communicate with? One method scientists have used is measuring brain size. If size is the standard we’re going with, then at 8,000 cubic centimeters the sperm whale’s brain is the largest in the animal kingdom.

Julia Day
Julia Day is a New York based writer and illustrator. She attended Colby College where she studied 17th Century Poetry, Environmental Science, and Philosophy.
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