Dolphins Recognize Themselves Before Human Children Do

Written by Ilana Strauss

If you thought you were special, think again, human. A new study found that young dolphins actually recognize themselves earlier than young chimps … and human children.

When scientists want to figure out if an animal can recognize itself, they need one thing: a mirror. It’s a pretty simple idea: you put an animal in front of a mirror and see what it does. Most animals can’t figure out that the animal in the mirror is really itself (ever seen a dog bark at its reflection?). But some animals make repetitive motions in the mirror to figure out what’s going on.

Scientists have only found a handful of animals that can do this, including humans, chimps, dolphins and, for some reason, magpies. And even though we know adult dolphins can see themselves in mirrors, no one had ever tried out the test on young dolphins … until now.

A couple of scientists from New York’s CUNY Graduate Center put a mirror underwater and filmed Bayley and Foster, two young bottlenose dolphins, looking at themselves over a period of three years. The dolphins recognized themselves right away; they started making those repetitive motions when they were only seven months old. It usually takes human babies at least a year to do the same, and it takes chimp babies even longer.

“We suggest that the dolphins in this study began to use the mirror as a tool to view themselves as they performed a variety of novel and sometimes ‘apparent social behaviors’,” write the researchers.

This test isn’t just about mirrors. Scientists have found that recognizing yourself in a mirror goes hand in hand with things like empathy, play, intelligence and just plain dealing with others. Yet more proof that these marine friends of ours are really, really smart.

This post originally appeared on TreeHugger.

Photo Credit: Peter Fogden/Unsplash


Megan S
Megan Syesterday

this was an interesting read

John P
John P3 days ago


Winn A
Winn A3 days ago


Winn A
Winn A3 days ago


Naomi D
Naomi Dreyer4 days ago

How interesting!

Marty P
Marty P4 days ago

Most animals are way more advanced than humans we only excell in the hate and cruelty dept.

Marija M
Marija M4 days ago

Interesting, tks.

Carole R
Carole R4 days ago

Dolphins are amazing creatures.

Patty L
Patty L4 days ago

AMAZING! I always knew animals were smart, if not smarter than their people counterparts. tyfs

sharon b
sharon b4 days ago