News Stories

Dolphins in the Mirror

While there are other intelligent animals living on the earth with us, only a few can be called conscious or self-aware. If you put a mirror in a cage with a bird, he will think he has a new friend. Dogs and cats scratch at mirrors, not realizing they are really seeing themselves. Now scientists have proved that dolphins can recognize their own images in a mirror.

This is a very rare ability that up until now has only been shown in humans and great apes, according to researcher Lori Marino. Marino and colleague Diana Reiss studied 2 teenaged dolphins. They put a mirror in a small, round pool that was connected to a larger, oval pool by an open gateway. The mirror was positioned just inside the gateway so it could not be seen from the larger pool.

The dolphins were called to the side of the larger pool and either marked with a non-toxic magic marker or rubbed in the same way with an inkless pen. The marks were made on their heads, fins and bellies, where they couldn't see them without the aid of a mirror.

"We found that not only would they make a beeline for the mirror and spend time looking at themselves," says Marino, "but they'd posture in front of it to expose the marked part of the body to the mirror."

Previously, scientists thought that only human and closely-related primates had this "mirror self-recognition" ability. "But now we've shown dolphins recognize themselves in the mirror, we have to contend with the fact that these animals, with very different brains, are arriving at the same ability," Marino says. "Some people think that if an animal can recognize itself in a mirror, then it's capable of other forms of abstract awareness."

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