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Mindful conservation – why we need a new respect for nature

'We should look at whales and dolphins as the indigenous people of the seas -...
tins of whale meat

How Japan’s whaling industry is trying to convince people to eat whales

Japan's hunters kill hundreds of whales every year despite the fact that hardly anyone in...
Common dolphins © Christopher Swann

Did you know dolphins have personalities?

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A dolphin called Arnie with his shell.

Dolphins catch fish using giant shell tools

In Shark Bay, Australia, two groups of dolphins have figured out how to use tools...
Common dolphins at surface

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Leaping harbour porpoise

The power of harbour porpoise poo

We know we need to save the whale to save the world. Now we are...
Holly. Image: Miray Campbell

Meet Holly, she’s an incredible orca leader

Let me tell you the story of an awe-inspiring orca with a fascinating family story...

Dolphin brains are more complex than initially thought

Hearing and seeing are largely thought to be two seperate senses. Dolphins however also use sound to see, a technique known as echolocation (see illustration below) where an individual dolphin sends out an acoustic signal (clicks etc.) and whatever it hits, or bounces off of sends back to the dolphin where it can then “see” what it is. New evidence from the study of two dolphin brains – acquired from animals who stranded over a decade ago – shows that this process is even more complex than was originally thought. 

Dolphins like to hang out in groups

In most mammalian species there is one area in the brain associated with hearing and one with vision. in dolphins however, by using a new technique called diffusion tensor imaging (DTI),  researchers have found that the processing of sound takes place in more than just one area as the auditory nerve connects to not only the temporal lobe – the area of the brain in most mammalian species where hearing is processed – but also to another area in the brain known as the primary visual region. 

This has led the authors to hypothesise that unlike the human brain for example, dolphins hear sound in more than just one place, likely because they use it for more than just hearing. Sound is the most important sense that dolphins have and they use it for not only exploring their environment but for communication, navigation and foraging.

Lead author Gregory Berns, a neuroscientist at Emory University, is excited by the similarities they found between the brain of dolphins and bats, also known to be experts at the use of echolocation, because although bats and dolphins are completely unrelated this research shows that they may have evolved similar mechanisms for using sound not just to hear, but to also create mental images. Berns considers that for the first time, we may be on the road to beginning to “really understand how the dolphins (and other animals) mind works and how they create perceptual experiences from their environment”.

dolphin echolocation

About Nicola Hodgins

Policy Manager at WDC