May 3: Dolphins are much more intelligent than humans previously thought. Scientists have recently discovered that bottle-nosed dolphins can recognise themselves in the mirror – much like you and I can!

When you see a zit on your face, what do you do? Go to the mirror time and again, and wonder what it is still doing there. Well, this is exactly what two male bottle-nosed dolphins, Presley and Tab, do as well. So, these lovable aquatic animals are not just seafarers’ friends, but they are also aware of their bodies – almost like humans!

Dolphin in the Mirror
Dolphin in the Mirror [Illustration Shinod AP]
A Reuters news agency report in The Telegraph newspaper reports says that Presley and Tab stay in a pool with reflective glass walls in the New York Aquarium.

Researchers in the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Osborn Laboratories of Marine Science noticed that when Presley and Tab saw their own reflections, they did not seem to think that they were looking at another dolphin.

Dolphins are very social creatures, and are friendly with humans as well as their own kind. This got the researchers thinking. Perhaps the dolphins recognised their own images? So they decided to find out.

Using non-toxic ink, they made marks on different parts of the dolphins’ bodies, changing the place every week. Every time their bodies were marked, the dolphins made more trips to the mirror than usual. If the ink mark was on their tummy, they would expose their tummy to the mirror and look at it for a long time.

Now doesn’t that sound familiar? Imagine the dolphins wondering – “Now where did that mark come from? I wonder how long it’s going to stay?”

Till now, only the great apes like the chimps, the gorillas and the orangutans have displayed this quality of recognising their images in the mirror. All other animals have failed this test.

The researchers feel that these findings may increase human sensitivity towards dolphins, which are being hunted and slaughtered in great numbers. Dolphin fins are considered as delicacies in several South-East Asian countries.