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Outwitted by a dolphin

Tommi Kokkola/Getty Images

In the early Noughties, the dolphin trainers at the Marine Life Oceanarium in Mississippi came up with a clever wheeze, says Tom Whipple in The Times. By the end of each day, pieces of litter would find their way into the pool, so the trainers taught the dolphins to do the cleaning. For every crisp packet or sweet wrapper they brought to the surface they were given a fish in return.

But one of the dolphins, Kelly, came up with an even cleverer wheeze. When she found a bit of rubbish, she would hide it under a rock. Then, whenever she felt hungry, she would tear off a small piece and swap it for a fish. Kelly, it turned out, was “playing” the trainers.

We humans imagine a great gulf divides us from other species. But while our evolutionary paths diverged 750 million years ago, all forms of animal have hit the same problems since then – “and came up with the same solution: intelligence”. Hence wild animals often display characteristics we believe to be uniquely human. Elephants mourn the dead, dolphins use tools – attaching sponges to their beaks so they can forage in sharp coral – and chimpanzees have a flare for fashion. In one troop a trend developed among the chimps for putting a blade of grass in one of their ears, leaving it to dangle.

The strangest truth about animals may not be that they are intelligent and sentient and do have consciousness. Rather, it may be that their consciousness is “nothing like ours at all”.

Read the full article here.