Cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) are often considered to be among the smartest creatures on Earth. Popular accounts abound of tool use, self-recognition, name-like signals, complex songs, and intricate societies. But what do we really know? We will read scientific literature as well as two recent books about the topic, “Deep Thinkers” and “Dolphin Politics in Shark Bay”, and discuss topics such as brain size and structure, cognition, communication, social behavior, culture, tool use, and conservation issues relevant to cetaceans. We will compare so-called intelligence markers of cetaceans with those of birds, bats, and primates, and discuss if and how intelligence might be defined in nonhumans. Students will be expected to actively participate in class discussions. In addition, students will give presentations and write responses to readings, including summary/critique papers on journal articles. Students will also prepare a final project on a research topic of their choosing, which will be presented to the whole class. An optional whale watch field trip will take place near the end of the semester.
- Teacher: Laela Sayigh