Dolphins have the longest memories in the animal kingdom
Yep, you heard right. A recent study carried out by Jason Bruck of the University of Chicago’s Institute for Mind and Biology suggests that dolphins have the longest social memory of all non-human animals, perhaps even longer than those of elephants, which are usually considered to be the champions of recall amongst animals. However, as the evidence for prodigious memory in elephants is purely anecdotal, dolphins will take the crown for now.
Some of you might know that these playful, brilliant creatures were already recently found to have signature whistles that they use to identify their group mates, which is similar to how we humans use names to identify each other. On the basis of this idea, Bruck collected data from 43 captive bottlenose dolphins at various zoos in the US and Bermuda, where careful records had been kept for each dolphin’s social partner. Then, to each dolphin, he played signature whistles of various dolphins, including those of their old partners, over underwater speakers.
Bruck found that the unfamiliar calls mostly went ignored, while the familiar ones elicited an immediate response from the dolphins, even the ones that had been separated from their old partner for more than a decade, all the way upto 20 years! This ability to recognise an old friend after so long suggests that dolphins have a more complex cognition than we previously thought. The reason why, however, isn’t clear. Perhaps having a long-term memory helps dolphins to maintain relationships and prevent inbreeding, or even create opportunities for hunting alliances!
Man, dolphins never cease to fascinate.