Are Dolphins Really Smart? The Mammal Behind the Myth
Gregg (Justin)
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Back Cover Blurb

  1. Dolphins are the second most intelligent species on earth, with their own language, their own sophisticated cultures, a warm and kind disposition, and a special attachment to humans. Or so we are often told. But is any of that true? What do we really know about dolphins? Justin Gregg takes a critical look at the scientific evidence, highlighting the ingenious ways in which scientists look for animal self-awareness and intelligence.
  2. What emerges may be a more modest view of dolphins, but we are left with a greater admiration for the abilities of the animal world as a whole.
  3. ‘Serves as both a rigorous litmus test of animal intelligence and a check on human exceptionalism? → The Scientist
  4. Are Dolphins Really Smart?' makes an important contribution to discussions of animal intelligence. Justin Gregg examines the “myth of the intelligent dolphin” and gives us a rational, scientific view of what dolphins are really capable of doing. He writes in a very readable and convincing way about the various claims that have been made and leaves us with a realistic, if not entirely flattering, picture of dolphin life and behaviour’
    → Professor Marian Stamp Dawkins, University of Oxford
    ‘At last a book that puts dolphins in their rightful place in the cognitive hierarchy — on a par with dogs: refreshingly honest’
    → Professor Tim Birkhead, author of Bird Sense

Amazon Book Description
  1. How intelligent are dolphins? Is their communication system really as complex as human language? And are they as friendly and peaceful as they are made out to be?
  2. The Western world has had an enduring love affair with dolphins since the early 1960s, with fanciful claims of their 'healing powers' and 'super intelligence'. Myths and pseudoscience abound on the subject.
  3. Justin Gregg weighs up the claims made about dolphin intelligence and separates scientific fact from fiction. He puts our knowledge about dolphin behaviour and intelligence into perspective, with comparisons to scientific studies of other animals, especially the crow family and great apes. He gives fascinating accounts of the challenges of testing what an animal with flippers and no facial expressions might be.
  4. Gregg challenges many of the widespread beliefs about dolphins, while also inspiring the reader with the remarkable abilities common to many of the less glamorized animals around us - such as chickens.
  5. Justin Gregg is a research associate with the Dolphin Communication Project, and Co-Editor of the academic journal Aquatic Mammals. He received his doctorate from Trinity College Dublin in 2008, having studied social cognition and the echolocation behavior of wild Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins. With an undergraduate background in linguistics, Justin is particularly interested in the study of dolphin communication as it pertains to comparisons of human (natural) language and animal communication systems.

Amazon Customer Review1
  • Being halfway through the book I thought I should leave a comment. I am having a hard time reading this book without feeling I am being misled. Though it is evident that the author manages a great amount of information, I believe another book is necessary to refute his interpretations of some studies, and therefore, dolphin's intelligence overall; however, there are flaws that, in my opinion, make the entire book, at least, questionable:
    1. The arbitrary definition of intelligence the author decided to use (how much of a dolphin's behaviour resembles that of an adult human) leads inevitably to (at least) two unfortunate outcomes:
      1. it will never be possible to find an animal that is more "intelligent" than humans
      2. the suggestion that there is a major gap in cognition between humans and other animals. In my opinion, this is not only wrong, but a step backwards.
      Not to mention that oceans are not human-like environments and therefore dolphins could have not evolved having human-like behaviours.
    2. It is the general rule to compare dolphins with other animals, which in principle should be something positive and should provide evidence that there are other intelligent animals that deserve recognition, but the reality is different. First of all, it is the combination of all those behaviours and characteristics that make dolphins "unique", and not each separately. And second of all, and again, comparing any animal's behaviour with human's behaviour (or among each other) would never provide a real insight into their cognitive capacities.
    3. There is a general bias towards dismissing studies that have been carried out on dolphin cognition (whilst accepting similar studies in other animals without questioning) and to exclude every behaviour that has been observed in the wild, claiming they are anecdotal observations given the lack of "scientific testing". Leading, again, to an underestimation, in my opinion, of dolphin's cognitive capacities.
  • I am a marine mammal researcher, but not an expert2 on the subject, and I haven't finished the book, but for what I read so far, I am most certain he will not backtrack.
  • So, to conclude, I do not recommend this book. Lastly, I would like to hear what others (and maybe the author himself) have to say. Thanks!

In-Page Footnotes ("Gregg (Justin) - Are Dolphins Really Smart? The Mammal Behind the Myth")

Footnote 1: Footnote 2: This seems to be a contradiction.


OUP Oxford; Reprint edition (26 Feb. 2015)

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  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2020
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

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